BACCA Guest Blog: Writer’s Block by author Zach Tamer

Writer’s Block

Image courtesy of Drew Coffman

Writer’s Block Image courtesy of Drew Coffman

 

For nearly a year I have found it very hard to put pen to paper, as the saying goes. I don’t know if you could call it writer’s block as much as writer’s avoidance. I have been trying to find my way back to my old habits, trying to set aside time to write each day, but each day I find a new excuse not to write. I wake up too late to write in the morning, I get out of work too late to write at night, I have to meet a friend for Happy Hour, I have to clean, there is a new show that I want to watch, a new book that I want to read, and the list goes on ad nauseum.

The reality of the matter is that ten months ago I lost my writing partner, the person I bounced ideas off, the person I called when I finished a poem, the person who called me when they finished a poem, the person who recommended new books, the person who I called dad. As Father’s Day came and went I have found myself writing more, or at least attempting to write. I have been forcing myself to sit and stare at the blinking cursor until something ends up on the page. Usually what ends up on the page could be likened to the scribblings of a kindergartner wielding a giant crayon, but with each attempt I get that much closer to getting back into a groove. I haven’t been happy with much that I have written recently but I have found the process to be very therapeutic. It has been like rekindling a relationship with an old friend I didn’t know I needed in my life so badly.

One of the things I’ve done to help me dive back into writing has been to do some freelance work for a travel blog. I’ve just begun writing for a blog all about Bogota, Colombia. Bogota holds a lot of wonderful memories for me and with these memories, words have begun to spill out on the page. As I revisited some of the familiar sights and smells of the city I thought maybe it would help me to revisit some of the poems my father and I wrote for our book. As I thumbed through the pages I realized I could still bounce things off him. I could see his writing style, see the things that I loved in his work, and the things that he loved in mine. I could still hear him reading his poems and making comments after I read mine. I still talk to him, and while I’ll never know if he hears me I hope I’m not just a crazy person talking to the air. I’d like to think that we join the particles that make up this earth when we pass on. Many times, I could swear he hears me, that my dad really is a part of everything, and that thought helped me to write a poem.

You Will Be

You will be the star

on a starless night

showing me the way

with your guiding light.

The single drop of rain

that splashes on the ground

in the dirt beneath my feet

evaporating without a sound.

The snow that falls overhead

just hanging from the pines.

Branches about to break

like I’ve nearly done so many times.

The air that I breathe

that fills up my chest

fills me with memories

until there’s nothing left.

Sometimes I wonder

where you are today

then the breeze hits my ears

and I hear you say,

“I went back from where I came

So, quiet all your fears.

Go lie in the sun

and let me dry your tears.”

The words still don’t come as easily as they used to, but the rust is flaking off each time I write. I’m sure that writer’s block will strike again. I’ll find new excuses, and new ways to avoid writing altogether but next time I’ll know how to find my way back. For me, it was starting the habit of sitting at the computer, and I found that if I had the time to sit and watch the cursor blink, I certainly had the time to try to churn out coherent sentences. I also found a topic, a point in time, that was filled with wonderful memories and I let it permeate my senses until it came out in words. If you are currently facing the dreaded “block” chip away at it until you tunnel to the other side. Harness the beautiful memories in your life that help the light filter through, and before you know what’s happening the words will find the page, and you will realize that nothing is insurmountable.

By: Zach Tamer

https://zacharytamer.com/books-2/

 

 

 

 

 

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The Troll and the Bully

Have you cultivated your relationships with your inner bully, troll, or monster? In my writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, I include a tool named “Objection, Your Honor!” that acknowledges the presence of our own inner mean voices. The tool recommends scripting replies to the mean voices, and keeping them handy for when you are feeling susceptible.

For instance, to that classic challenge, Who do you think you are?, one of my clients created little signs he keeps posted in his workspace. Each sign contains the nasty question – and his response to it, in this case, “I’m the one writing this book.” A novelist I met got excited about saying back to her bully, “Who do I think I am? I’m the author of a four-volume saga. The first book has been well-received, and I’m already done with the first draft of book two, that’s who I think I am.”

I’ve been exploring this further, in conversations with clients and fellow writers, and continue to learn about these inner voices. As I mentioned in a blog post elsewhere, I’ve come to see that we can engage with these voices — give them a seat at the creative table. While it’s handy to keep our swift, pointed replies handy for use in a crunch, I recommend setting aside calmer moments now and then to initiate a dialogue.

Here are sample vignettes of imaginary conversations with the troll and the bully, followed by a sample re-write of the second one.

Auntie Troll

auntie troll walks inShe launches herself into the library and commandeers the one comfortable chair, opposite you. Adjusting herself and her shawls and scarves, she begins, with her sweet, insinuating voice:

“You look busy, dear. Too busy. What’s your hurry? Where’s the fire? Speaking of fire, there’s a lovely tea shop nearby with a fireplace open to two sides. We’re sure to get a table there. Wouldn’t it be nice to treat yourself to a cozy afternoon? Surely this so-called work you obsess on can wait. Who’s paying you for this, anyway?”

“It’s creative writing. I haven’t sold it yet. At the moment I’m writing it.”

“Ah. I see. So let’s pack up your things, dear, and head to the tea shop. You won’t begrudge your auntie a cup of tea will you?”

Powerless to oppose her, you notice yourself packing up your notebook and laptop. As you hold the door open for her, you wonder how she was able to derail your writing session with just a couple of sentences.

This is troll behavior, intruding on your work session, diverting you with promises of comfort and ease, and, for good measure, adding a nice dollop of straight-up guilt.

Here’s another vignette.

The Bully

He’s there when you arrive. Lying in wait, it feels like. He speaks first, issuing the challenge.

drawing of an alien-looking creature the bully“There you are.”

“Am I late?” You realize, as soon as you speak, that you’ve blundered already by showing weakness.

“Late? Who’s to say? This is all so free form, who can say if you’re on time? Or years too late? Can you look me in the eye and promise me this project of yours is ever going to see the light of day?”

He looks like he’s enjoying this.

“Uh.” You feel so useless. Where’s the energy you had ten minutes ago?

“Right. Moving on. And if it does — say, for example, you get it printed yourself — can you explain to me how it’s going to be seen by anyone who doesn’t already know you?”

“Uh.” Well, he’s got you there.

“Say no more, buddy. Say no more.”

You exit, looking nearly as dejected and discouraged as you are feeling. No more writing for you, on this day or the next several days, as it turns out.

So far, this is a classic bullying session, which may even ring a few uncomfortably familiar notes.

The Bully 2.0

Now we’ll bring the scene in for a re-write, to turn the scene into an actual conversation.

Bully: “There you are.”

You: “Hey, good to see you. I’ve been wanting to have a chat.”

“You have? You want to talk to me?”

“Yeah. I’ve been thinking maybe we have more in common than I thought we did.”

“Well, yeah. Maybe. I mean, I am a part of you.”

“You raise an interesting point. I’ve always thought of you as the bully, this character from outside who somehow got inside my head and exists to disrupt my creative flow by questioning and diminishing all my ideas.”

“Wow. That hurts.”

“Excuse me? Are you telling me you have feelings?”

“I’m part of you. Do you have feelings? You do the math.”

“Well, that’s — a new perspective. Uh, what do you want me to call you? Do you have a name?”

“Call me BB.”

“Tell me more, BB. I need to understand how it is that you and I are on the same side.”

He sighs, whether more from relief or impatience it’s hard to tell.

“All right. I’m going to overlook – for now –  the fact that you have maintained a hostile attitude and basically wished I would just go away. That said, I will now explain how this works. Pay attention. I don’t intend to repeat myself.”

“I’m listening.”

“Let me ask you this — why do you think I ask you about whether your project will ever see the light of day?”

“To make me feel small and inadequate and sap my energy?”

“Okay, that’s one interpretation, I guess….try this on for size, instead. First of all, in case you aren’t aware, I’ve been with you all along. Ever since you’ve been here. Since before you could talk, or form sentences.”

“Huh. How is that rele–”

“So it’s relevant because it occurs to me that we may need to update my settings.”

“Your settings? What are you? A robot? A chip implanted in my brain? What the –?”

“Basically, you sent me away a long long time ago.”

“I did what?”

“I can see you need some deep background before this can make sense. You think of me as your bully because you effectively froze me into a role that I played when you were a kid. Technically, when we were a kid.”

“Froze you into a role?”

scared kid 11289228893_ee995ca3f4_z“Okay, so remember when life at school got really hard?”

“Which time? The playground bully, or the weird neighbor, or the monster teacher? Or something else?”

“I was thinking of the playground bully. what was that – third grade?”

“Yeah. Sounds right.”

“Didn’t have a lot of defenses then, huh? Didn’t want to involve the parents, who had their own problems. Kept switching schools, so no time to make close friends.”

“It was a lonely time.”

“Agreed. So my job became keeping you alert to danger. I was protecting us. Better to be ready when the next bad thing happened.”

“Be prepared, and all that.”

“Right. So I think you didn’t like how it felt, having me on the lookout like that all the time. So you put me in a corner of the attic somewhere and shut the door. And ever since then, all I’ve been able to say, or at least all you’ve been able to hear me say, are warnings of gloom and doom and failure. There was a time when that was helpful. I’d like you to understand that.”

“This is weird. But yeah, I can get that when I was a defenseless kid you were helping me out by looking out for trouble. It’s just that nowadays, that’s not what I need. From anyone — part of me or friend or stranger — anyone. What I need now is support of another kind.”

“What kind of support?”

“If we went back to the first question you asked me today — do I really think my writing project will ever see the light of day — could we look at things differently? Like, if you want to look out for me nowadays, ask me what I’m doing to cultivate my author platform and build buzz about the book before it’s even done. Encourage me to become a better literary citizen, keeping in touch with the people I know and want to know. Help me to venture into uncomfortable situations, introduce myself to authors I respect, post book reviews online, link to other writers and publications in my blog and newsletters, all of that.”

“Hmmm. I guess that makes sense. You know more about this writing and publishing stuff than I do. I’ll need to get up to speed, but I get the gist. Looking for existential threats isn’t the order of the day now, is it?”

“Nope. Not helpful.”

“Let’s do this again, okay?”

“It’s a deal, BB.”

–end scene–

smiling 11165453423_420ed1164b_z

Might it be worthwhile to check in with your own versions of the inner bully, troll, and/or monster? Might it be an interesting exercise to initiate a conversation?

Just as with the bully and the troll in these vignettes, you may be able to spot your versions of these characters delivering some script lines that are in urgent need of rewriting. And who better for that task than a writer?

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides book coaching and manuscript development services to authors. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. #becomingunstuck 

— All images courtesy the British Museum on flickr

— Special thanks to Artie Wu of Preside Meditation for his way of framing conversations with our “inner board members.”