Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writer's Block Doesn't Exist

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I really didn't expect to be writing about writer's block for my very first blog entry as the Open Book TO Writer-in-Residence, but it's something that I've been thinking about a lot this week. I'm coming off a few ridiculously terrible writing days; plus, this is my space for the next four weeks, and I'mma do what I want.

I write for a living. There are many reasons that this is wonderful, like not having to wear pants, having cats and a puppy for office mates, being able to drink at my desk and blare all of the heavy metal I want. There are also reasons that this is terrible, like that fact that not wearing pants enough days in a row can cause you to turn into Gollum, and that I am much harder on myself than the most awful boss I had before I became a freelancer. It is entirely self-driven, self directed work: you have to pitch, to hustle, to get an editor to take on the piece; to arrange for whatever research material or media or interviews you need; and then actually sit down and write the damn thing to boot.

This means that, ever single workday of my life (and often at night and early in the morning and on the weekend, because I'm an asshole to myself), whether I feel like it or not, I have to write. I probably have to write quite a bit. Not writing one whole day creates a backlog, a log jam of material, that can ruin and entire week of meticulous scheduling and result in a lot of crying at 3am when I still have three interviews to transcribe. Even when it sucks, even when I don't want to, I have to write.

Writing full time, for a living, has taught me two things: 1) writer's block absolutely does not exist, and 2) exactly how hard it is to get words down varies dramatically from day to day. These are not the same thing, but they are closely related.

For three days in the middle of the week, writing felt nearly impossible. Even getting a few words down felt like a colossal physical effort, as though each word was a weight that took a significant amount of my strength to wrestle into place. By the end of each day, my brain was shaking like an overused muscle and I had pitifully few completed pieces to show for it. Every day, I felt defeated.

This heaviness, the palpable weight of resistance, is something that I think a lot of people refer to as writer's block. "Block," however, isn't quite right; it is not as though a valve is stopped up, that there is no message to come out; just that the words become nightmarish to wrangle into place. Every sentence is like wrestling a wet mattress up the stairs. But, still, it is not a block; it is hard, so very very hard, but it is still entirely possible. It is not paralysis, or a loss of power and voice; it is frustrating but not absolute. It's possible to fight through it, force something out, and then rest and recover for the next bout.

Today, happily (so very, very happily) things are working as they should again. Instead of kettle bells, words have become light and amiable. Putting them in their place is actually pleasurable, like hitting a tennis ball in the dead centre of a racket. The ease, the joy, has come back, as it always comes back.

When I have a bad writing day, a lot of colleagues tell me to walk away from the keyboard, and they are right. To go for a walk, play with the puppy, have a beer. Shifting gears works, and resting is never something I have been good at. But, then, I write for a living; I can't take a day off simply because it's hard today. And no matter how awful the writing seems, there is something deeply comforting in knowing that, as heavy and frustrating as this pile of word-rocks seems today, I can still build something out of it. Tomorrow the writing kryptonite will have probably worn off, making this labour a pleasure again. When you push yourself through a bad day enough times, you realize that writer's block does not exist; there is only resistance, and you have the strength to fight past it and make something anyway.

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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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page