Writer’s block. I highly recommend three books. They were recommended to me. I’m just passing them on. I present them in the order I read them. These are the three classics, in my library of writing books. My hard copies are all on loan, and I don’t expect them back. Just keep them in circulation.
The first is Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. This book transformed how I approach my daily practice. In fact, I didn’t actually have a daily practice, prior to reading this. My first year of writing, I had a regular practice, but not daily. And, I focused on producing manuscripts.
Natalie completely changed my approach. She taught me to write from within a journal. Some people can produce lots of great books, just working up manuscripts. But, that’s not her approach. And now, it is neither mine.
The next is The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. A book to disabuse the aspiring writer that there is any short path to success. It is work. It can be brutal. Get used to it. It is a job, like any other. Grind, in order to succeed.
The last is The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I have had a funny relationship with this book. First, Wen Ling had to hit me over the head with it (only figuratively), to get me to read it. I wouldn’t. Then, I actually began this book before The War of Art. But, I finished the latter, first. Then, after my diagnosis, and as my last year of software-engineering played out, I ignored the title on my Nook. My symptoms had overwhelmed me. I could sense that Julia’s book would require more effort than I could provide, in that moment. So it sat waiting for the right conditions, before I would open it.
I came back to it naturally, as I renewed my creative effort. I had just spent the better part of two years writing, or, as I imagine it, thinking physically, about all the stuff happening in my life. Wen Ling and I had separated. Then, I discovered I had this health challenge. Followed by an adjustment period. Journaling helped me to come through all of this with an optimistic and accepting attitude. Somewhere around November/December of 2012, I began to think creatively, again.
Initially, I wanted to return to the book I had abandoned, before my symptoms had begun to dictate my days. I had already discovered the first of five principles for dealing with my symptoms. (More on this in my next post.) I had had just an absolutely great concept for a book. But, when I tried to pick it up again, something was missing.
I found it difficult to resume that relationship. Too much had passed in the interim. The story felt distant, to me.
I needed new inspiration. This is when I turned to The Artist’s Way. I have seen a number of reviews, by people who say it is just a bunch of ‘New Age Hooey’. I completely disagree.
Julia Cameron will ask you to do some strange stuff, in the way of weekly exercises. For instance, one of the exercises I undertook was to pray for creativity. Now, understand, I am an atheist. But, I did the exercise, because I was serious about unlocking my creativity.
The book contains Julia’s philosophy, in twelve lessons, each with exercises. These twelve chapters are intended to be followed, in order, one chapter per week. And, Julia tells people that the exercises must be followed. You can’t unlock your creativity just by reading about it.
Well, I had a deep burning intention to do just that. This atheist prayed, and did a lot of the other exercises, too. I even adopted the attitude that I would take on the all of the difficult assignments, to better challenge myself.
Somewhere in week seven, my creativity unlocked. I began my current project. I’ll go back and finish the The Artist’s Way, someday. I think the people who pan the book are just too stiff to be exercised.
Writer’s block is no match for honest effort, and these three books. I recommend them all. Julia asks the most of the reader, in terms of follow-along practices. Brand new writers, I might tend to steer toward Writing Down the Bones, instead. Natalie appeals to the youth in all of us. The War of Art most resembles a pep-talk. Sometimes we need a good pep-talk. This would be a great book for a newly crushed writer, after sharing their first bad work. Pick yourself up. Get back on that horse!
These three books are better, for blocked writers, than what I will share. Instead, beginning in my next post, I will spin a tale of what happened after I took all three to heart, and tried to write a book as my health continued to deteriorate. This past year was my most challenging, yet. But, by applying the idea that my disease was just a form of writer’s block, I discovered some adaptations that have allowed me to find the energy, and the mental clarity, to begin my book. I couldn’t say this, even one month ago. Back then, when I told people I am writing a book, I never hid the fact that I wrote everything in my journal.
Now. I am beginning my book. It is no longer confined to my journal. I am back to working up manuscripts. In addition to journaling. (I would love for readers to share their favorite books on writing, in the comments section below. Or, blog about yours, and share a link to your physical thoughts, as a comment/pingback.)