Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wrestling With Writer's Block

A guest post by Peter Patrick Langella -- from the VCFA Summer Blog Initiative

The first in a series of guest posts to be featured here Tuesdays in August -- by students and graduates of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

As a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, one of the most challenging requirements that my classmates and I face is the dreaded deadline. Each month we must submit a packet of work that contains a reflection letter, essays, revised and new creative work, bibliographies, and exercises. You name it, and we probably have to do it. It's intense. We have to consistently produce quality work at a torrid pace. So, you ask, what happens when writer's block sets in?

First, if you never get writer's block, please stop reading this immediately and go do whatever it is that you do when you're not procrastinating or trying to figure things out. This is not for you.
Okay, now that we got those guys out of here, let's get back to business. Writer's block is a blessing, not a curse. That's right. Even for grad students with deadlines. It provides us with valuable time to clear our minds, and it gives us ample opportunities to formulate future plans. So, when writer's block hits, don't try to fight through it at any cost. Don't try to force yourself to write just for the sake of writing.

Peter, recharging

Relax. Take a break. Recharge.

Here are some things that work for me:

* Get away from the computer. I happen to live in the hills of Vermont, so I usually go for a walk, a hike, or a run in the middle of nowhere. The solitude is great for thinking. Before long, ideas for my current WIP always spring into my head. I think it's because my brain no longer feels captive to the keyboard. There's no pressure. The same reaction can work in a city. Find a place that you love to be. Go there. Let your subconscious take over.

* Immerse yourself in the creativity of others. Go to concerts, art shows and exhibits, farmer's markets, museums of any kind, lectures, sporting events, etc. Insert unnamed event or activity here. People are amazing, and they're all around us. I find that just being close to talented individuals or the things they create gets me going. It makes me think about my own creations. It makes me want to race back to the computer. Creativity is contagious.

* Start a completely new project. Maybe there's an idea that has been swirling around in your head for years? Write a chapter. Maybe there's a short story contest that you've always wanted to enter? Do it. Write it. When you return to your previous work you'll be refreshed and ready to go.

* Read. Read something for pure pleasure. Throw off your reading-like-a-writer-hat and just enjoy. Get lost in the story, regardless of style or genre. Let it take you to that place that only great books can find. I guarantee you'll come across some useful ideas while you're visiting.

I count myself very lucky to be part of the VCFA writing community; a place where things like introspection and exploration of any kind are encouraged. I could even write my next essay about writer's block and how it affects me. It'll have to wait though. I have a packet due in a few days, and I'm feeling a bit cloudy. Nothing like a run in the Green Mountains to clear the mind.

Peter Patrick Langella, a former ice hockey player who happily traded body checks for spell checks, is entering his second semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, working toward his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. For questions or comments about his post or the program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, you can reach Peter at peterlangella@gmail.com.

Any ideas on wrestling with writer's block? Please comment.
Check back next Tuesday for the second guest article in the VCFA series, Time to Punk Rock with Plot, by Ingrid Sundberg.


Anonymous said...

Captive to the keyboard--Peter, I love that! It's so true. I have to keep reminding myself that the story lies in me and not in the computer or the paper or whatever the tool of the moment is. I think of it as writer's emptiness rather than block, so then I can go fill up that space with words and thoughts from somewhere else.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I never get writer's block. However, I suffer from writer's hexagon.
Isosceles Triangle

kbrebes said...

You're right about letting the arts rejuvenate us. I recently attended a concert at the Greek and was swept away amidst the music and night sky into another world. Loved it!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thanks for this essay, Peter.

I often have to allow my "circling the desk" time. Like you, I try not to fight it or judge it. It's all part of my process. Yesterday I had two poems due for an anthology. I spent HOURS doing everything but...and feeling like a dweeb.

Finally, when I'd emptied out all that other junk, I sat down and it was easy to gather my thoughts and write. Funny how that works.

Amy Goldman Koss said...

Good piece!

Jackie Hirtz said...

Oh, yes! Creativity is contagious.

Susan B James said...

I've tried all your suggestions and they all work.
Think police megaphone in your ear, blasting "Step AWAY from the keyboard."
Thanks for the post.

Meg Wiviott said...

Great post, Peter. I particularly like your comment, "Creativity is contagious." When I am blocked I often spend sometime doing other creative activities - weaving, needlepointing, or just reading, as you said, for enjoyment. Someone else's well written story can ignite my muse's dull flame.