I wish I had a push-button Muse. I could prop her in the corner, over by the vacuum and the cobwebs. I could feed her pennies and collect ideas like gumdrops from her spout.
Instead, I find plot twists in the dishwater, characters in the cemetery, story fabulations in the backseat chit-chat of my kids. These burst of inspiration are unreliable at best. They cannot be bought or bribed or wheedled. I go for days convinced that I will never write a decent paragraph again.
Sometimes, words get stuck like slimy frogs in mud. They will not come clean. They will not come loose. They will not come at all.
The standard cure for writer’s block is hard work and determination. Sit and write. Sit and write. Push through. Be persistent.
I worked that way for years. I know the value of a hard sell.
But persistence doesn’t pay when you’re recovering from a concussion. My brain needs rest. It won’t be tricked, bullied, cajoled or fooled.
Of course, a creative roadblock doesn’t always take the form of a knock upon the head. Obstacles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. A family illness. A job loss. Kids going off to college or coming home. A divorce or a new marriage. We all get stuck, derailed.
Whether you express your creativity through writing, teaching, cooking, or playing with your kids, you’ll have days of mud and frogs. You’ll stumble in creative funks. Life will cast up roadblocks. And then, you’ll have some options.
Ultimately, we live the lives we tell ourselves. For years, I saw myself as competent and self-reliant. When that was no longer my tale to tell, I had two choices: find another story, or go silent.
I chose the path of reinvention. I began collecting pathways like pennies in a jar. They are my back-pocket resources, dusted with a bit of lint. They are nothing tidy, but perhaps they’ll come in handy on your days of mud and frogs.
~ Don’t go silent, but do go quiet. Listen. When I couldn’t read for months, I turned to audio books. I immersed myself for days in the lush sentences of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. I let Neil Gaiman‘s stories unbox my imagination. I took a chance on other genres, varied tales. I widened up my scope.
I joined Audible.com, which you can try for free by visiting their site. They have over 100,000 titles, in a wealth of genres. I also subscribe to podcasts like On Being, This American Life, The Moth, Freakonomics and The New Yorker Fiction. Listening to other voices, I discover new ways to reinvent my own.
~ Go back to the beginning. Children believe in everything. They live inside a world of magic, of wonder, where it is possible for animals to talk and stars to fall. They thrive in fairy tales, where anything can happen. And it usually does. That’s a liberation.
When a roadblock looms, it easy to only see the shadows. Close your eyes, instead. Go back to the beginning, before you were you in solid, adult form. Read a fairytale. Imagine. Kiss the muddy frog.
~ Forget the shape of words. In my months without clear language, I turned to images instead. I watched the snow fall out my window. I traced the outlines of the trees. I fell in love with photographs.
The best of the best of these come from my fable partner, Brenda Gottsabend. Her photographs split the world into new and different angles, reinventing light and shadows. The ordinary becomes something magical, pristine, waiting for rediscovery. Waiting for your eye.
Pinterest is another favorite resource. With millions of images to explore, from history to science to tattoos, Pinterest is a visual feast. Outside the shape of words, I relearn the art of seeing once again. New spaces open up. New ways of being blossom.
There is value in hard work and persistence. Sometimes, it’s good to push on through, headstrong and deliberate.
Sometimes, though, it is necessary to let go. Forget your self. Find another story, another vision of the future. There is no push-button Muse, waiting in the corner. But there are powerful voices to discover, beginnings to re-remember, a world outside the script you know. Sometimes, the best place to reinvent ourselves is in forgetfulness and unknowing. Sometimes, there is time and necessity to simply be undone.
What roadblocks have you encountered? How have you found ways around them? For more in the Be Inspired series, click here.