Writer’s block is so sneaky. One day out of the blue, it can hit you on the head like a ton of bricks. That’s how it happened for me. Proper prolonged writer’s block was something I had never experienced before. The minute my fingers touched the keyboard, the words would pour out of me like water out of a garden hose. Until the day, all the words dried up.
I tried in vain to wring them out of me. Finally, I set my pen down. My characters were all left hanging in the wind, with no tidy resolutions to complete their stories. They were mid- hero’s journey. Together, we were all lost in the dark night of the soul.
Writer’s block is different from procrastination or resistance. Yes, of course, I’ve experienced those. What creative person hasn’t? I’d block out time to write and find myself cleaning a closet instead.
This was an entirely different thing. This was writer’s block. And it lasted for over two years. Leaving the writing behind, I landed a nine to five and moved on with my life. It was time to let the dream go. Friends would ask—How’s the book coming? Short answer—it’s not. What’s new with the movie? Even shorter answer—nothing. At the time, I couldn’t articulate why I left it all behind because I, myself, didn’t understand it.
Instead, I would reassure myself that I gave it the “ol’ college try,” with two produced movies and two completed books. I had accolades under my belt, too. My documentary was selected for the International Women’s Film Fest, another project was a Sundance International Writer’s Lab finalist, and my novel won a Watty on the platform Wattpad.
For me, this decision came after I assumed responsibility for the care of a terminally ill parent. At one point, I found myself at the drugstore buying pads for my teenager and adult diapers for my mother. I was squeezed, sandwiched between caring for two different generations of women who needed me.
It was a deep and profound loss for me because writing, the one thing that always got me through tough times, had vanished. The writing was the one thing I could always count on. It moored me through the storms that life rained down upon me. It gave me hope. It was my one-and-only dream. In the third grade, I wrote my first novel, The Wild Adventures of Mustang, about a horse named, you guessed it, Mustang. He ran away from the horse farm and plot twist —had some wild adventures. The funny part of this story is I grew up on the Northside of Chicago and had never been to the zoo, let alone a farm, and had never even seen a horse. I hadn’t learned the “write what you know” rule yet.
So, you see, becoming a writer was my plan A, B, and C. Until it wasn’t. And the ease in which I released it into the ether of lost and forgotten dreams didn’t even phase me.
Then came COVID-19, and the world shut down. Corporate America gave me the old heave-ho. Since I no longer had deadlines and Zoom meetings to fill my days. I signed up for an on-line writing class through Gotham Writers Workshop. Workshops are a mixed bag. Writers are one-of-a-kind creatures, and you never know what kind of feedback you’ll receive. Or moreover, how you’ll receive it. You never know if the critiques will lead to a breakthrough or break you.
I took Pen on Fire with the promise “to help push past internal roadblocks.” At the time, I had a barricade surrounding my creative self. The class chipped away at the barrier by giving me the chance to write for fun. Yes, writing can and should be fun. Shocking, I know! In the class, we would free-write. A free-write is when the teacher gives you a prompt, and you write for anywhere from five to ten minutes. Then read it out loud. Each week we’d have bite-sized assignments designed to shake off all the mental dust covering my creativity. One day, I found myself writing and smiling again. And like that, I was off ready to re-write my novel, pull it apart, and put it back together again—a daunting task for any writer.
Once I focused on the writing and not the result, the words came back. Over the years, the rejection had worn me down. Yes, rejection is a big part of the game. For me, the struggle and strife overtook the joy. Writing became one more thing I had to manage and overcome. It was a battle. Once I realized I was defining success by landing an agent, I spent my time banging away at the keyboard in service to that one soul-sucking goal.
I had to get my mind right and redefine what was important to me as a writer. When I focused on the work, on the creative process, and on the craft, it unlocked a door inside me. I also find support in a weekly writers group that I was lucky enough to find.
Since I completed the class, I can report, I finished my novel. A short story I wrote, “Psychopomp,” was published in Writing in Place: Stories from the Pandemic, which debuted on Amazon at number four in Essays and number nineteen in Short Stories. These days I find myself running weekly writing groups on Zoom and mentoring writers through the creative process. I’ve since realized that even though writer’s block is real, you can work through it and find your way back.