“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
“Fool!” said my muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.” (Sidney 1591)
‘Writer’s block’ is one of those phrases that people argue about a lot; debated and often disregarded, plenty of people – writers included – don’t like it, or don’t believe in it. For the purpose of this post, I want to take the definition of writer’s block as a starting point: the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing. And then let’s forget about the phrase itself, and focus on that state – the feeling of being unable to write or create new material in any form, and think of it more as a…pause in inspiration, or a temporary forgetting of how to make. This kind of pause can bring up all kinds of feelings, many of which we don’t like very much. The question is, could yoga help? And could it help before the maker gets to the point of struggling with the plethora of emotions that a creative pause can spark, so that the prospect of such a pause doesn’t make a person anxious or wobbly or angry or hopeless or bent on finding a new path in life? Talking about writer’s block, author Anne Lamott said “your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck” (Lamott 2012). When you’re in that place, one of the worst things you can do is to dwell on how hard you’re finding it to create anything; your mind needs space. And, as I’ve begun to explore in the last few posts here, yoga is good for finding space.
Rather than fill this piece with theories and references, this one’s a kind of case study summary – the first post to take advantage of the interested and interesting people who’ve been in touch in the last few weeks (thank you!). So, our first willing subject:
Daniel. Daniel is a writer and he lives in New York. He practices yoga – an ashtanga devotee, he practices six days a week, when life-busyness allows. I actually mentioned Daniel indirectly in the previous post – he’s the one who told me that his writing practice and his yoga practice are barely distinguishable from each other. I asked him why, and he explained:
If I don’t do yoga I don’t write, but the odd part is that if I don’t write I don’t [practise] yoga. There’s always been a relationship between the two things for me, right from when I first went to yoga classes in college. It’s like this: when I do my practice I feel free and engaged and I want to write, I feel hopeful, capable, strong. And then when I write, I want to do yoga…I’m sitting there writing and I want to move and stretch, I feel like my practice and especially the meditative aspects of it help me to set what I’ve written inside myself, connect up the missing links between what I’ve written, what I will write, who I am and what I have or have not experienced myself.
I asked, then, what happens to Daniel’s writing when he isn’t practising yoga regularly.
It doesn’t work well. I can [write] but it’s not the same. The times when I’ve felt like I’ve had writer’s block were times when I wasn’t doing yoga. I think it makes me stuck – not having that movement makes everything stop, I get clogged up with thoughts that get in the way, and I doubt myself. I start to think everything I write is poor quality, whereas when I’m doing yoga I can see that it doesn’t matter so much..take everything less seriously? But not get stuck on stuff, that’s the main thing. It’s like if my body’s moving my ideas are moving and I don’t get tripped up.
There, perhaps, lies the key (or one of the keys). In keeping things moving in the body and in the mind with a yoga and meditation practice, it is easier to move on. To get beyond a moment that, without a practice like this, might feel like an insurmountable brick wall. Yoga allows tight spots to open up and for things – energy, ideas, whatever – to move through those spots easily. It allows for silence, for an emptiness that doesn’t feel threatening; to come back to what Anne Lamott said about breathing down the neck of your subconscious, it gives you a break from concentrating on what isn’t working and getting deeper and deeper into trying too hard to resolve it, and gives your subconscious a chance to work and generate solutions that would be impossible if you didn’t give it a moment. Perhaps yoga could do for creativity what sleep does for our brains; allowing us to process things, to store useful things and put them together into more coherent ideas, and let go of the things that are holding us back. Maybe.
Something that I’m certain yoga can do for us if we are facing pauses in inspiration is help us to chill out about it, and accept a pause for what it is. It doesn’t mean that we can never work again, that our supply of ideas is empty. Yoga teaches us to be in the present, and accept things as they are; it does the work of unworrying. Physically, we might feel less strong or less flexible today than we did yesterday, and that’s fine – it doesn’t mean that we’ll never feel stronger or more flexible. It’s all transient, it’s all moving. One day we can stand on our hands and the next day we might lose our balance, and it’s temporary. So understanding this, or being comfortable with this changing-and-passing of things in our yoga practice can translate into our creative practice. Being productive and inspired today doesn’t mean we will be tomorrow, necessarily. And being stuck today, having a pause in our creativity, doesn’t mean we won’t be able to create tomorrow.
Lamott, Anne. 2012. http://www.flavorwire.com/343207/13-famous-writers-on-overcoming-writers-block/3
Sidney, Philip.  2014. Astrophel and Stella. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform