I used to say that I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I always had this attitude that writer’s block wasn’t a thing. It just meant that the writer needed to sit down and push through whatever was keeping him/her from writing. My opinion has changed over the years.
I realize now that my attitude about writer’s block started with my upbringing by parents who were extremely disciplined small business owners and dedicated workers in their fields. My parents fought hard for everything they had in life and, in turn, gave me a great start in my own life with many lessons in discipline and hard work. It’s what they knew.
They taught me to strive for a strong work ethic, and that I, too, could obtain great things in life if I was willing to work for it.
When I became a CPA, I continued to learn that hard work and long hours produced the discipline it took to be “successful” in that field. This was reinforced by a generation of CPAs that came before me who became my bosses. These people (mostly men) pushed for long hours and intense productivity. Not to mention encouraged a sense of competitiveness among me and my coworkers. Who could work the most hours? Who could bill and collect for the most dollars? Who stayed the latest? Who could sleep the least amount of hours, and therefore give more to work, work, work? And if you were an early riser who came in at 6:00 a.m., that did not necessarily earn you bonus points. If you left early before the boss left, you looked bad.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, achieving “work life balance” was talked about often by my peers but was met with an eye roll by the generation ahead of us. But attitudes were slowly shifting, but they had a long way to go. The early years of my career was filled with long hours, high stress, and not a lot of personal free time. Free time was used to serve on the boards of charities and attend their fundraisers, network at afterwork happy hours, and attend other events where you might bring in additional work for the firm where you worked.
I became a writer during a time when I was heavily burned out on a career I’d worked very hard. I even had a blog at that time titled “Balance with Purpose.” Writing was my escape. I’d travel to another world—inside my books. And then I’d explore other topics on the blog, kind of like I’m doing now. My main characters would be these brilliant, kind, and strong people who conflicted with cruel, extremely flawed villains, who often were created in the image of some of the not-so-kind people I’d worked with. (Have I ever told you about one of the women I worked for at a horse farm? You should read Mindspeak, the first book I ever published, to get a glimpse at her.) I’m not saying the character is her, but inspiration has to come from somewhere.
When I became a writer, years and years of developing the discipline to get up early and work hard for whatever hours it took to get the job done served me well. I’ve written and published nineteen novels in seven years. There are writers who have written way more than me, but there are certainly authors who produce way less. During some of those years, I was still working long hours as a CPA.
In other words, the discipline I learned in my first career carried over into my writing and publishing career.
Which leads me back to my attitude toward writer’s block. With a high level of discipline, it’s not surprising that I felt I should be able to push through any sort of mental block when it came to my writing.
There are definitely times when I haven’t produced a lot of words to add to my fictional inventory. Have I suffered writer’s block? I didn’t think so, but I’m starting to look at it through different eyes these days. There have always been “reasons” I couldn’t write, but with those reasons came added pressure to write anyway.
- It was definitely difficult to work the creative part of my brain when I was overworking the analytical part of my brain during the day job as an accountant. Writer’s block?
- Raising children with all of their academic activities, traveling sports teams, and making sure to enjoy and be present during the years I had them at home took a lot of my attention, which took time away from writing. Writer’s block?
- Covid-19 was definitely a distraction from everything in life. I know so many writers who struggled with their creativity during the global pandemic. Add to that a year of political drama and civil unrest. Writer’s block? Um… Actually… Yes. Most definitely.
During 2020, a year when one of my children should have been away at school finishing up her senior year in college, and my other child was finishing up high school and should have been busy becoming more and more independent and away from the house a lot, they were home. They were distressed over the blow life had dealt them. We all were, weren’t we? They were thankful they were safe at home, but life wasn’t supposed to be what it was becoming. I think we can all relate to this.
While my children, Mike, and I were all extremely grateful for what we did have, we also felt the stress of the world. And I took it upon myself to lessen the stress for my kids. Life had dealt all of us a giant blow. And the way I coped was to make life fun for two kids who had no desire to be stuck at home with their parents. We reintroduced game nights. We’d get take out from our favorite restaurants and play games as if they were elementary age again. I cooked fun meals a lot! My daughter is vegan, so we became creative and learned to cook fancier and better vegan meals. It was fun, and it took up a lot of time to learn new things.
I also began working as a CPA again. It worked out great. I was able to work 100% from home, stay safe, and be here for my kids.
All four of us were mostly working from home—a home that I used to have all to myself during the day while I wrote.
When tax season was over in 2020, I was supposed to jump right into writing Secret is in the Bones.
Here is when the problems started. I need quiet when I write. I am very disciplined when it comes to getting “busy” work done. But when I sit down to create a fictional story from scratch? I need quiet and few distractions. I need uninterrupted writing time.
Not all writers are like this. Some can block things out and write anywhere, anytime. In the car at soccer practice or ballet lessons? No problem. Busy airports? Absolutely. While waiting at the gynecologist? Sure.
I am SOOOO easily distracted. I have to turn social media off for hours at a time in order to create fiction or to do anything that requires hard thinking.
As you can imagine, I was definitely distracted in 2020. But it wasn’t just everyday noise and distraction inside my home. It was outside noise. It was the daily doses of bad news. If it wasn’t the global pandemic, it was the presidential election news. If it wasn’t terrible political news, it was another heartbreaking, unjustified police shooting. Add to that extreme heat and forest fires. And that was just 2020. 2021 pretty much feels like, “Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat.”
While I know we all struggle to shut out daily doses of bad news, I’ve found that all of these things, while also helping two nearly-adult children come to grips with what’s happening, took a toll on me. And continues to do so.
Add to that a quickly approaching deadline! The pressure was A LOT!
Which brings me to the point of this post…
When it comes to performing or producing… Whether we are putting pressure on ourselves, or we’re receiving pressure from outside sources… Pressure can become unbearable when lots of negative distractions and outside influences pile on. And when we internalize that pressure and stress because everyone around us is also dealing with many of the same things, it can become too much.
We all watched as Simone Biles succumbed to the unbelievable pressure she must have felt from the 2020 Olympics. This pressure caused her to suffer from the twisties, which you’ve by now heard people describe as being similar to the yips, or “a sudden and unexplained loss of skills in experienced athletes.” And if you’re a fan of Ted Lasso, then you’ve heard him talk about this mental block.
When Simone announced that she was pulling herself out of the team competition to concentrate on her mental health, the internet decided they needed to have an opinion about the very personal opinion. (Shame on you, internet! It was truly none of your business!)
What bothered me the most about the internet’s opinion of Simone was the many people who said she needed to pick herself up, be the competitor that she trained to be, and basically, “Suck it up!”
The problem, however, is that in golf, soccer, baseball, or whatever, the yips is just a really bad day. In gymnastics, it could be a broken bone or much, much worse! In gymnastics you literally lose where you are while soaring through the air twisting and flipping, and then you can only hope that you’ll land safely.
In the creative world, the yips or the twisties is writer’s block. It’s a mental block that keeps you from creating the thing you so badly wish to create, but your brain is experiencing a disconnect. An “author is unable to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. This creative stall is not a result of commitment problems or the lack of writing skills.” And it’s not the result of lack of discipline.
Simone was able to fight her way back into competition by winning the bronze metal on the beam despite suffering from the twisties, and that was a great win for her.
I was able to write and publish Secret is in the Bones after suffering from writer’s block, and that was a great win for me and for readers who had been waiting on it.
But the real win is admitting that mental blocks exist, and doing whatever is necessary to get past them. Simone Biles wasn’t looking for sympathy or anyone’s permission when she announced that she was suffering from the twisties. She didn’t even immediately announce that it was the twisties, because she knew how the world would react. (Again, shame on you, Internet.) But once she named the monster that was dragging her down, she not only moved on with strengthening her mental health, she helped many others who have suffered or will suffer in the future.
The real win is the strength and courage it takes to stand up to the stigma of mental illness and put mental health needs above the need to perform, produce, or create.
I realize that writer’s block is not the same kind of mental block that could end in a broken neck, but a mental block is a mental block. It’s frustrating. And it’s real. And who am I to ever tell someone else that they’re not suffering from some sort of mental block? And that’s what writer’s block and the twisties have in common.