Sometimes people say they have writers block. I believe two things about writer's block:
1. You can only get it if you have been told you are a good writer.
2. It only exists when you believe you have to write good things.
And the truth is, you probably are a good writer and you mostly write good things but you don't have to. The problem is, somewhere along the line, someone told you were a good writer and this society is one that thinks the only reason to do creative things is if it is good (ie you could possibly sell it) so if you are going to spend your time writing, it better produce brilliance. Fuck a bunch of that. You don't need to write for any other reason than writing is what you do to make sense of things. Because your hands have to. Because you breathe better when you aren't all clogged up with thoughts. Here are a few things I like to do when trying to unclog the pipes.
1. MAKE A LIST.
You have probably heard this one before but it's a good one. Mostly because anyone can write a list. You write them all the time. Write a grocery list. Write ten rooms you remember from your childhood. Write ten secret worlds you have been a part of (the kitchen at the sandwich shop, your local poetry slam, your mom's bathroom). Ten cars you've been in. Ten mothers of childhood friends. Ten seems to have some kind of magic. This is mostly because the first six things on the list are the surface level images. When you start tilting your head, trying to think of 7-9, you are plunging the image submarine into the depths of your brain. This is stuff I learned from one of my favorites and someone I pretend is my Secret BFF, Lynda Barry, partly because we have the same maiden name but also because she completely changed the way I think about writing when I discovered her in 2010.
2. SET A TIMER.
You can light a candle or put on a good vibe playlist (If you have Spotify, I recommend the Deep Focus channel for instrumental tunes to write to) but mostly set a timer. You need constraints. You need a finite amount of time to ask your brain to write shit. Try seven minutes. You can handle just about anything for 7 minutes.
3. WRITE SHIT.
Write the shittiest, shit, shit you can possibly write. No metaphors, no imagery, no fucking enjambment. Just write the gunk that is lining the sides of the pipes. Pick one thing that is on that list and write about it like you are writing a letter to a friend and telling them all about your childhood sunday school room. This friend loves you. This friend doesn't care about your spelling or your deepness or that you once won a writing contest in the fifth grade for your evocative essay on the First Amendment. This friend just wants to know what the mean teacher was wearing.
4. WRITE THE SMELL OF SHIT
You might have heard this one before too. USE ALL FIVE SENSES. What did the shit smell like? What did it taste like? (Ewww) What did it look like? Feel like? Sound like? You don't have to get metaphorical. Be literal even. But moving off the topic of literal shit, if you are doing the childhood rooms list for example, Did your Sunday School classroom have little sandwich cookies and tiny cups of juice? Did you wear pink Osh Kosh overalls? Did your teacher smell? like dryer sheets and Elmer's glue? No? Okay, then what was it like?
5. WHEN YOU ARE HONEST WITH YOUR FEELINGS, THAT TRIGGERING TOWN CHOOSES YOU
Richard Hugo says in The Triggering Town that writers always have two subjects, the one that triggers the writing and the real subject. He says "give up what you think you have to say and you'll find something better." He's says it's better to start talking about something else BEFORE you run out of things to say about your triggering subject. And be honest with your feelings. Did writing about your grandmother's kraut crock make you think of your grief about your father's death? Is that what this is really about? You don't know what it's really about. It's not your job to know. You are not writing to solve mysteries, your job is to render what is. Follow the clumsy trail of what is.
6. BUT WHY?
I like to play the WHY GAME to get more clarity on a variety of topics. Why are you a poet, Lauren? Because it is cheap and portable. Why does that matter? Because I can go into any correctional facility in the country with nothing in my hands or pockets and share art with people might need it. Why? Because when I was 18, someone shared poetry with me when I needed it most and it changed my life. Why? Because it taught me I no longer had to numb my feelings, I could write them. You get the idea. You can go on this slide for a while but for me, it helps get me out of the triggering town, and find the quiet place by the tree where I can breathe and see what's really going on.
7. NOW BE MORE SPECIFIC
After you have written a lot of shit. After you have asked why and found the place by the tree. Go back and see if there are any lines that surprise you or give you goose bumps or make you smile. Go back and see if there is anywhere you could be more specific. When you said your father was a chefdid you mean he often poured ketchup into a can of green beans and ate it right out of the can? Instead of saying you loved your girlfriend, could you say you popped her back zits even though it is thing that grosses you out more than anything? Everywhere that you can have a specific noun in place of an abstract, vague idea of a noun, do that. It will get closer and closer to the landing place.
8. GO CLEAN THE HOUSE
If none of this is working or you got part of the way and it got uncomfortable and next thing you know you are scrolling Insta again, then go do the dishes. Clean out your junk drawer. Organize your underwear by butt coverage. This can do one of two things. It can make you feel really accomplished or it can be the thing you avoid more than you avoid writing. This works both ways for me. Sometimes I don't want to write the thing I need to write more than I don't want to do the dishes so the dishes get done. At the very least, you will get something done and you feel better about yourself and you can try writing shit again tomorrow.