Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writer's Block: Whatever You Do, Don't Think About It!

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Writer's Block: Whatever You Do, Don't Think About It!

I’m fortunate in that I’ve never really suffered from so-called ‘writer’s block’, if that affliction means being completely unable to write for an extended period of time. I have come to understand and accept my own writing cycle, to know that I hit a wall for some reason around the midway point of each book. I used to worry that it meant the end, that I had entered into a proposition which could not be sustained by guts and bravado alone, that I had yet again “bitten off more than I could chew”. Now I take it as the ebb and flow of the creative process. I simply need to step back at the halfway point and let things settle a bit, let the story breathe a little. And sure enough, the breeze picks up again and the words begin to flow and we are back in business.

Author Christian McEwen, writing in the Los Angeles Times, describes how our modern society moves too fast, we are assaulted with constant information, our commutes are too long, work is too demanding, and this all has a negative effect on the creative process. This is what we call in the writing business an ‘understatement’. We are never not connected, and when our smartphones drop to a single bar of connectivity, we panic because we might … miss something. All of this so-called connection has arguably made it more difficult for artists to find quiet space.

“There is a great deal to be gained from doing nothing,” McEwen writes. “We need space to brood and ruminate and mull. We need to slow down to get where we’re going … Numerous writers, artists, poets and musicians have testified to the virtues of such idleness in their own creative lives.”

I always thought that I got my edge – whatever that’s supposed to mean – from my ability to multi-task, a ceaseless energy, a burning ambition, the candle always lit at three ends. I see now that these assets will get you only so far down the road. It’s by “dropping out”, to borrow a line from the acid zealot Timothy Leary, that I truly drop in to a new zone of deep thought.

Writer Pico Iyer, in a piece titled ‘The Joy of Quiet’ in the New York Times: “Has it really come to this? In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them – often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug.”

On a vacation last year in Big Island, Hawaii, I discovered the peace and serenity that comes with a complete and total disconnect from our always-connected world. I fell in love with and taught myself to play the ukulele. Ken Cameron, the owner of Hilo Guitars and Ukuleles, told me stories about how this tiny instrument – nicknamed ‘the flea’ by the Portuguese sailors who imported it – has cured depression, saved the sanity of prisoners of war, and generally inspired the souls of millions who have strummed her. I found out for myself.

There are worse things, it occurred to me one day, than to while away a life sitting on a beach strumming four chords on a ukulele. I came to the new and freeing conclusion that the whole operation would continue just fine without me or my fussed-over book, and that there was really nothing more important being said or asked in an email or at the water cooler than what was right before me at this moment in time: silence, beauty, peace.

Now, we all have to work for a living and live in the real world, so the challenge became how to carry this new philosophy back into the fray. I carved some boundaries and started reserving more ‘offline time’ so I could think straight and let the creative juices flow. The result was surprising in that my creativity increased and so did my focus at work.

Today, rather than allow myself to reach the point of frustration where I make all sorts of solemn proclamations like “I’m done, that’s it, I won’t finish this book, I don’t know why I ever thought I could make this work, who needs another book anyway … ” I turn to my ukulele and start strumming.

It doesn’t take long for me to forget what I was trying to remember that was so important ...

CB

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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C.B. Forrest

C.B. Forrest is the author of the literary crime novels The Weight of Stones and Slow Recoil.

Go to C.B. Forrest’s Author Page