We all suffer from publish-or-perish these days. We’re often anxious, traumatized, blocked. We can’t write a word and for good reason: There are millions of blogs for billions of readers. Posts, e-books, white papers, and barely edited, barely professional popup journals pop up overnight, full of stuff. Maybe, we think, reading just one more thing will relax us enough to write just one more thing to add to the noise. We sit nervously in front of our laptops. Avalanches of paper magazines, newspapers, and reports can’t smother smartphones that croak, bark, or boing until we read messages from who knows whom thousands of miles away. Every onslaught of words requires at least passing attention—doesn’t it? We respond. Again, we compete for milliseconds of attention and talk, text, or tweet past each other, not with each other. We’re angry. We can’t find our notes; we’ve lost our train of thought. The blank screen remains blank. A Great White Nothing shines in front of our eyes.
Forget all the colorful books that tempt us into the next room!
Everyday expository writing is like Edwardian service for words. It’s hard work, nothing pretty. It’s no place for verses in fancy frills. Although press releases—the chauffeurs—have to prance and strut, well-presented pages in butlers’ blacks and whites satisfy their masters most often. We, the employers of words, want the assignment done, not great art.
But in the commotion, while blocked, we confuse passable, even creative copywriting or academic writing with artistic writing. After all, when we read poetry and fiction, we encounter writing as art. Writing, we know, can be no less art than “art,” music, dance, and drama.
So we become more fearful. Nothing we type sounds good enough or makes sense. We need a solution—and fast.
Solution to Writer’s Block
Could drawing a picture on Saturday help us put words to work come Monday? Could practicing a long-neglected art for no more than an hour once a week loosen our fingertips? I think so, and I’ve developed an arts discipline, my own arts-in-health or healing program, that helps me far more than reaching for potato chips—or my smartphone. It may unblock you, too. You may also find your self, or selves, embarking on an internal, revealing adventure that will cost little or no money. You won’t even have to buy an e-book!
Just read on …
First, this is about doing, or practicing, the arts. It’s not about consuming them. So, no, you may not go to that lecture on Easter egg painting in—I dunno—Revolutionary War Antarctica. Much as you may find inspiration in arts and cultural programming, right now, it’s a distraction, a means of procrastination. This is not an intellectual, cognitive pursuit. Cogitate, watch, read, and you’ll veg. You can’t unblock vegged in place.
Second, get rid of expectations. We ain’t talkin’ high art. You might stink at it. This is not about instant fame, fast cash, or even sharing. Do you exercise to become a pro? Pray to become a saint? I hope not. Can we all get our poetry published in The New Yorker? Compose a hit song? Sadly, no. But we can rid ourselves of writer’s block (which even the famous endure). If, along the way, we discover some truth about ourselves, have some fun, well, jolly. Those are definitely secondary aims of the method herein.
Third, what I’m proposing isn’t therapy. I’m not an art therapist, dance therapist, drama therapist, poetry therapist, culinary arts therapist (a new one to be sure), or expressive arts therapist. Our arts histories and feelings are important, no doubt. A blocked sculptor, a blocked chef could live within you. But right now, we want to scrape only the tops of our psyches—alone. We have writing assignments to do!
So what is the discipline? How do you start?
Develop your own curriculum. Which arts appeal to your true self, dare I say, the child within? List them. I chose drawing, voice/singing, movement/dance, and poetry. Devote up to one hour a day, one day a week to each one. If you pass into the zone, and the hours fly, that’s grand. But don’t pay for a class. Odds are, the how-tos will block you even more.
Instead, make a pile (not an avalanche) to stand for each art you’ve chosen. Fill them with colored pencils or DVDs from your previous attempts to follow your inner Renoir or Barishnikov. Then put them in order, according to the schedule you’ve developed. You can move them around if, say, dance day interferes too much with visits to the gym. Consider designing tent cards for your stacks. If you have a large house, devote a corner or room to each art.
Now for the worksheets … Get ready to loosen …
On each of three sheets, list your arts and give yourself no more than three lines to write on. There’s no time to waste in unblocking your work-for-hire writing—and exploring long-lost or never-explored arts. Later, you can write more in your journal. Now, you need to get dirty, make noise, bump into furniture, do weird things with words. Oh, never mind …
Call the first sheet First Steps. For each art, scribble down no more than two activities that excite you. No to-do lists here! We’re interested in process, not goals—except for removing writer’s block. Here are two examples from my First Steps worksheet:
Drawing—Play around with different drawing materials by making abstract designs on different papers. Make simple mandalas.
Voice/Singing—Practice how to breathe from the diaphragm. Do simple voice exercises with a CD.
After a week of “classes,” label a second sheet Interrelatedness. Have you noticed any relationships between the arts you’ve chosen? Here is one example from my Interrelatedness worksheet:
Voice/Singing and Movement/Dance and Poetry—There are many forms of breathing. Breathing for singing differs from breathing for yoga. Yoga breathing and Pilates breathing are not the same. Shallow, strained breathing results in poor singing, poor speaking, poor movement, poor dance. Appropriate breathing improves them. Singing and movement elevate mood, inspire thought. Better thinking leads to better copywriting, better poetry.
At the end of the second week, when feeling less blocked—maybe even inspired—take out a third piece of paper and title it Revelations. What have you learned about the arts you’ve chosen? Have they revealed a new direction you’d like to take in your writing, in life? Here are several things I realized:
- An arts habit fills me with gratitude and quiet joy.
- Dabbling in the arts, if not excelling in them, is good for my mood and work, including writing.
- If you promote the arts, as I do, you need to practice them.
- “Doing,” not just “consuming,” the arts is a necessity. Like exercise and nutrition, the arts are intrinsic to good health.
- Practicing a few arts regularly can reveal new directions in work and life. It can help you prioritize.
When you’ve completed the process once, start again with a second-steps worksheet. Quick, before you get stuck perfecting the first steps! Complete the cycle at least twice over a couple of months. How many writing assignments have you finished? Have they come more easily since you started having fun with the arts? Do you prefer one of the arts you’ve chosen? Does one unblock you better than another? Do you want to make one of them into a hobby?
As for me, I plan to continue exploring all four of “my” arts. They and spending time in nature, which I’ll explore in subsequent posts, have helped me hone my calling.
Now … you’ll excuse me as I dance over to my phone, which is singing Pavaroti under my latest mandala and and first poem in sestina. Wow! A new customer wants me to write a brochure. She wants something like the one I wrote for her competitor. The copy flowed really well. Hmm … Wonder why?