If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I struggled for nearly fifteen years trying to write. You’ll also see that I think the entire concept of writer’s block is BS and that it is resistance and fear.
However, it took me a long time to understand this truth, and during those fifteen years, I wasted a lot of energy making excuses for why I wasn’t doing the work.
- I’m uninspired.
- I need to outline/flesh out/work on the idea.
- I should work on X before I work on Y.
- I know what I want to write, I just can’t find the words.
Unfortunately, there was a deeper, more troubling excuse I’d foist upon myself: I believe creativity was a selfish act.
This lie would wiggle itself inside my brain at the most inopportune time. I’d finally “convince” myself to write, only to suddenly see others struggling in this world with pain, heartache, and sickness, and immediately feel guilty wanting to write some silly story. It was a perfectly self-destructive, self-fulfilling thought and crushed any hope of me doing the work.
The early “fix”
An early solution to combat this resistance was to travel north to a lake on a writing retreat. I hoped that isolating myself in the boreal forests of Saskatchewan would help focus and inspire me. I’d had early successes, but unfortunately, as time went on, I always seemed to bring my old evasions with me and not get the writing done.
On one of these trips, when I was really struggling, I went to my parent’s cabin to find my way out. Of course, I didn’t do the work because I somehow packed my fear and resistance along for the trip. Yet, I also cunningly convinced myself it wasn’t my fault.
To exacerbate things, my father showed up, and my head filled with defences. How dare he interrupts my creative time! I was just getting going! If he would just let me focus...! Again, more excuses created in my head to avoid the work.
The Trail Ride
Despite all my internal protests against his presence, when he asked me to go on a 4x4 ATV drive with him, I agreed, because—why not? It was another excuse not to write.
Our destination was an old unmarked trail that took us past an old forgotten campground and picnic area. It sat on the top of a terrace, a high cliff shaped by the erosion of the river over millions of years as it slowly cut down through the flood plain.
Over the edge of the terrace was a precarious sandy slope, so steep that if we mishandled it, the ATVs—and us—would undoubtedly go tumbling to the bottom. We took it slow—light on the gas, heavy on the brake—and somehow successfully slid our way down.
The trail continued, but old trees had fallen across the way, and we’d either have to clear them away or turn back. Yet, as we sat there, assessing the situation, our engines off, we heard the quiet trickle of water somewhere off to our right.
We went in search of the source.
Thick foliage barred the direct path, so we had to cut our way through the spruce and pine until we stood at the top of a rise that overlooked a small inlet. Fallen trees had washed into the cove, closing it off, and forming a small bog. The source of the sound was located somewhere down below.
The side we were on was impassable, but if we worked our way through the thick foliage on the far bank, we might be able to get closer. We moved around, crouching low and threading our way through the mesh and maze of brambles and branches until we dropped down to the peat moss’s edge.
It was spongy and deep. Fallen trees crisscrossed like broken bridges. It would be a precarious, slippery path, and one misstep would certainly sink us to our calves in the muck.
Yet, there was beauty all around. The cove and the trees secluded us from the world and created a miniature biome teeming with life. Frogs, flora, and bugs intermingled in a complex relationship, all fueled by the little spring at the heart of our expedition.
After many winding back-and-forths along the trunks of trees—and the occasional near fall—we arrived at a toppled tree, its branches still full and leafy, its roots buried deep in the side of the escarpment. We ducked between its foliage and crawled the rest of the way.
There, at its base, was the source. It trickled from the soft cliff banks into a small pool below the tree. The air smelled crisp, and a tiny rushing stream cut its way through the peat, forming small pools.
Dad scooped his hands into the currents and tasted the water, convincing me to try it. It was ice cold and metallic, but after the scrapes and bumps and workout we had taken getting there, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something so glorious.
That stream became a sacred space for me. I would find strength from it, imagine stories built around it, and would take the closest people in my life down to it. But only recently have I found meaning within it that I shaped into two analogies about creativity.
The first came from Keith Johnstone and his belief that he could “turn unimaginative people into imaginative people at a moment’s notice.”
Julia Cameron suggested a similar notion in The Artist’s Way. If you haven’t read her book, it focuses on helping the struggling artist, by leading them through a twelve-week course to recovery. Cameron believes that creativity is a spiritual practice, and, like Johnstone, we are all capable of being creative.
Of course, I initially bristled at this idea.
If creativity wasn’t some unique resource or skill that only a few of us held, it blasted at one of my core defences against doing the work. I wanted to believe that creativity was a finite resource, but if everyone had it and only had to move past their resistance (“the watchers from the gates”) and embrace their spontaneity, I was screwed. It meant that I could no longer say I was uninspired, or that I couldn’t find the words, because it was always present within me.
The truth I now realize is that creativity is like my little stream within that cove. It is always present, always flowing deep within us, and all we have to do is make the sometimes challenging journey to its source to drink from its water.
The Endless Cycle
However, this implication reached even further for me. Once I accepted the first part, I started exploring the idea, considering the geological underpinnings.
Typically, water moves underground through aquifers composed of sand, gravel, and rocks. In places where it meets the water table, it travels vertically or horizontally, bubbling to the surface in natural springs and streams, which leads to larger bodies of water. Here it evaporates, then condenses, leading to precipitation and completing the cycle.
Creativity operates similarly. Instead of seeing it as a selfish act, by doing the emotional labour, we carry it to others. We can entertain, challenge, and provoke people, and inspire others to do their own creative work. And when they struggle with their own resistance, we can help them through teaching, guidance, and coaching.
Creativity is a generous act. Doing the emotional labour of bringing your work to the surface and sharing it with others is about participating in a natural, generative cycle.
In the end, it’s important to remember that creativity is not a finite resource and that it is endless and within all of us. The only thing that gets in our way is our fear and resistance. The sooner we recognize this truth, the sooner we can do the hard work required to let it flow.