navigating the blank page

I know when I’m in the zone – when I’m writing something more than the usual meh; when I’m actually onto something – when I feel like I’m wrestling. When it’s not easy. When the words hang somewhere between excruciating and ecstatic and summoning them is laborious, at best. It’s like they are a delicate extension of my hair and they’re caught, actually more than caught, they’re knotted and teased expertly to the hundreds of individual spindles of a wire brush. Pull too hard and I rip my hair out from its roots, give up or don’t pull hard enough and well, I get stuck. With the same uncomfortable tangle of words attached to the same stubborn hairbrush. I don’t move forward, or backwards for that much. I just remain in a stagnant sameness. And that’s not O.K. At least not for me. So, I begin the task of freeing my hair, gently, patiently, one strand at a time in a kind of understanding dance of give and take until… sweet freedom. I’ve managed to extricate it from the clutches of that damn brush. Many (many) knots are still there and my hair’s an awfully clunky mess of a nest but, I have something to work with. To return to tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. That’s how I know I’m onto something.

The writing days that are fluid and gushy and well, easy, not too much seems to come of them – from my experience that is. They’re the ones that give me one good sentence or phrase, maybe two, but that mostly end up in the ‘cull’ pile. If I’m lucky I might take some clarity away from them as well – but that’s only sometimes.

Then, there’s the writing days that happen the other 85% of the time. The ones that were writer’s block when I allowed them to be four, five, six years ago but which I now (thank eff) know how to handle. And that’s only come with experience and with letting go. Switching off that doubting brain and just putting pencil to paper. Without censoring or worrying about sentence structure and spelling and, well, everything else (I was at a writing workshop recently with Raimondo Cortese who said that “writers block is just overthinking” – LOVE it). They’re also the hardest days. They’re the days that I feel shit and disillusioned and like all I’m really doing is faking it ’til I make it.

So, yes, a polished, publish-worthy piece doesn’t just happen – contrary to the belief of the masses. Rather, it comes from lots and lots and lots and lots of editing and writing and re-writing and drafting and, well, work. Yes, I’m sure some writers are blessed with an uncanny ability to make things sound beautiful from the get go but, my gut and my experience tell me that they’re the minority.

Any artists out there with a similar creative process? Fellow writers, can you relate?

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