NOTE: THIS IS A GUEST POST FROM JOHN MABERRY, ONE OF THE SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD PARTICIPANTS. HIS MEMOIR, “WAITING FOR WESTMORELAND,” WILL BE THE SECOND BOOK FEATURED ON MAY 29. JOHN LIVES IN NEW MEXICO.
Although I’m not a scientist or engineer, I like to apply a concept from physics to this problem some of us writers face. I see it as the principle of inertia at work. An object at rest tends to remain at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion (subject to gravity, friction, wind resistance, etc.).
In the case of a writer, one first has to overcome the inertia of being at rest—staring at a blank screen or page, fingers unmoving without the impetus of the mind’s direction. So what’s to be done, with a project in mind but no thought on how to proceed? That’s the classical predicament, is it not? You want, you need to get something done on that story, that article, that page in the novel. But your mind is not cooperating, it’s as if the mind were frozen, locked up like a malfunctioning bit of software on the computer. This is when you might use inertia to your advantage.
Just write anything. You can write something, can’t you? No, not on the task at hand. Something else. You could write something about that vacation you took last year. The problem with your car that the mechanic fixed. The movie, the restaurant, the play—somebody else’s book that you enjoyed. It doesn’t matter what. Now your writing mind is in motion. It wants to stay in motion as the principle of inertia demands. So when the alternate writing gets up to speed, try shifting to the work that you were initially unable to do.
It may not work all the time, but the simple confidence boost, the mental shift may be enough to get you going. If not, instead of choosing some mundane topic of no immediate practical value, you choose to make some progress on another project that is on another to do track. What happens? You will have accomplished something of value, despite the block on the task that you intended to work on.
So maybe doing something else doesn’t help if you have an absolute deadline. Resistance to motion is stronger, back in the inertia analogy, with a deadline. So what else can you do? A little oxygenating, pulse racing exercise for a short time may help. Gets the brain functioning at a higher level. A walk outside, some trips up or down stairs. Nothing that will wear you out, just something to get the blood and oxygen going. What else? If caffeine helps, fine; but note that it might make you more frazzled. Play with the dog or another pet; they’ll be happy for the attention paid to them instead of the intention that the computer or the writing pad gets from you. This is restorative if you find yourself too tense to proceed.
Take a nap. Makes no sense, does it? You need to work, not be lazy, right? It’s not lazy if you can escape the grip of anxiety or stress over the inability to do the writing. If not a nap, perhaps meditation or whatever other relaxation technique you use.
Be careful with drugs or alcohol. While they may offer relief, they also may offer too much in the way of escape. It’s all in what your mind and body can handle and make use of. A few sips of wine may remove the inhibiting thoughts that locked the writing part of the brain. A few more and you may be inclined to say “the hell with it.” Mary Jane, all the more so. She is a tempting Goddess. Only you know your functional limit. Don’t buy into the historical anecdotes about the authors who must drink to write—unless you are quite sure you are one of them.