Eating high-fiber food helps.
No, no, no. Just kidding. I won’t write about that kind of blockage. It’s about writer’s block constricting a story.
For a while, I’ve wanted to write a story with “learned” in its title. None of my 157 Medium published stories has “learn” or its conjugations in their title. I’ve never used it because of its negative connotation as “clickbait” and the presumption that what I Learned is the last word on the subject. But there’s always a first.
My stories begin as ideas on a list, with no particular order. It may be my journal tag, a sentence, a paragraph, or a link to cyberspace. It’s like a seed but without instructions. Its origins are bright and colorful, which is why it’s on the list, but its final transformation as grass, bush, or tree, is, however, at that time, unknown. Light and warmth from my attention break the spell of hibernation. Google docs, creative manure, and brow’s sweat provide the medium, nutrients, and moisture to grow. From all the seeds I have sown over ten years of interleaved droughts and floods, only green pastures and leafy bushes have grown. The pastures are one-page grasses: reflections, thoughts, and opinions. The thick bushes have several pages: essays, desperate cries, advice, memories, good and bad experiences. A majestic tree, with its shadow over all, has yet to grow. A book.
Interest, passion, curiosity, one or all, are feelings that deserve to be preserved as an idea on my list. My hope one day is to recreate that feeling, to save it from the wastebasket of forgetfulness. When the seed from the idea sprouts from attention, it’s frustrating when the continuity, clarity, and conclusion it deserves is blocked. The creative manure doesn’t provide enough nutrients, or sweat from my forehead is obstructed by procrastination and indecision. I can’t turn that awakened seed into grass or shrub and let it loose into the unforgiving world of published stories for all to see.
When I intend to finish a story and find I can’t, I wish it were of the “not being able to stop writing” kind, but it has never happened. It’s the opposite, “to hardly complete what I started.” The idea, the subject that drives me roars and lunges for two or three paragraphs, but it’s not enough. I want more. I always want to publish more. And it has to be huge. It should be better than before. The painful temptation to leave at that point, forgotten, with a premature end, and start something different is great, but my ego is never satisfied.
This is what I’ve learned when I’m constipated -mentally
1. I learned that “ego” is the colloquial expression for “a person’s self-importance”. I like that definition, simple to understand, unlike its psychoanalytic specification.
2. I learned that I don’t write out of need, I do for fun. I’m lucky it’s so, but I hope this pastime will someday help to pay the bills. So I have, and I want, to publish consistently and often.
3. I learned that I don’t impose a publication date. In fact, I know that Monday is not my day to be creative although it is to edit. Waking up on Monday, thinking of a shrub to prune and shape, excites me. Waking up thinking of a growing seed that needs manure and sweat depresses me. Constructive pruning needs — concentration to correct grammatical errors, use the dictionary, explore the use of metaphors, or review against my list of “7 good practices” — is compatible with my Monday blues. Ingenious mood ain’t one..
4. I learned that if after a week I couldn’t move the story forward, I must dig into and clean-up my ideas list, looking for new seeds. Competition works like Drano on an obstructed pipe.
5. I learned that my task board fulfills its existential purpose. The board is on the screen or just a mouse-click away. Colorful and attractive cards represent projects and their column assignment tells me what’s been done and what remains to be done. Column one is joyful and welcoming, when an idea turns into a seed. In column two I have a sprout that needs creative manure and sweat. Column three is for pruning. In column four it’s revealed as grass or shrub and set free at the mercy of a publication’s editor. It’s in column two where I’m attacked by mental constipation.
6. I learned that a free, unscheduled hour brings me joy.
7. I learned that reading will not unblock my mind, but it’s a distraction from the frustration of thinking … and nothing coming out.
8. I learned not to depend on weekends to assist in my writing, Weekends are best used for boredom and real experiences, nonvirtual.
9. I learned that sleep helps. From down to the bed to up from the bed, in between, I go for eight hours.
10. I learned that the seed-plant analogy isn’t the only I can think of. I can also imagine a story as a drifting boat, and me, the captain that leads to safe harbor.
11. I learned that I can say more with less.
12. I learned that I can do the opposite of number eleven. I can write and I can talk, but I can’t do both things at once, though writing on the page I guess is like talking, having a conversation with myself, the ego with the introvert, the introvert with the world, the world with the ego, creating and manipulating a character on the page for readers to enjoy: a scholarly, unbiased, experienced connoisseur, world explorer and people person who sees in his 60 years of age an advantage rather than a disadvantage, who found good, clean, fun in Spanish words and sentences and English words and sentences because I live every day immersed in those languages, having eight years ago made a decision to move from my Spanish-speaking hometown, imposed by the circumstances of that time, but which I don’t regret.
13. I learned that I just wrote a 130-word sentence without saying anything.
I learned that the number thirteen is not unlucky. Because I learned thirteen powerful truths and the worst that can happen is for no one to read about it, or realizing that maybe I cheated, taking this paragraph as fourteen, or the next as the fifteenth truth.
I learned that my writing attitude follows a Pareto distribution of 80/20. 80% joke and 20% serious.
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13 Powerful Truths I’ve Learned When I’m Blocked was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.