I almost never have writer’s block, but I’ve had it recently. That’s at least partly a function of having published somewhere between 150 and 200 pieces on this website.
Here’s the thing. Writer’s block does exist. It’s often a byproduct of mental fatigue. It can also be caused by what I’ll call “bad living.”
In my particular case, my being creatively blocked—sounds a lot like constipation—is a result of some bad habits I’ve fallen into just as the other kind of “getting stuck” can result from unhealthy eating practices. In other words, I’m guilty of living poorly recently, and now I’m paying the price by being incapable of getting things to “move.”
I should have known better. Back when I was a full-time teacher of writing to university students, I often used to say—it became a kind of teaching truism—that bad product often results from bad process. If a person doesn’t go about some creative act in the right way, then it is far more likely that no satisfying creative product will result. In other words, beautiful or insightful or thought-provoking works don’t often happen accidentally. (I do believe in the power of serendipity though.) They come after we prepare the soil for planting and then do all the watering and pruning and nurturing that’s needed.
I’ll say it again. I haven’t been living right. Though I have a long list of bad habits I’ve fallen into and could share with you, I’ll focus on one in particular—I haven’t been reading enough.
After all, how can a person who writes have anything interesting to say to others if he’s stopped listening to interesting things said by others?
So, I went to the library and checked out three books: The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet, Teaching as a Subversive Act by Neil Postman and Charles Weingarten, and Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation by Paulo Freire and Antonio Faundez.
I started with the first two on my list and found that they were complementary, so I started reading alternating chapters in each one. I’d read the first chapter in the Highet text and then the first in the Postman and Weingartner book. I almost immediately started encountering ideas that set my mind to whirring. For example, Highet writes, when discussing why some students don’t listen in class, that, “Young people hate grown-ups for many reasons. One of the reasons is that they feel grown-ups’ minds are fixed and limited” (14). The author then goes on to say that when young people meet an older person who is still excited by life and open to thinking in “childish” ways, they are naturally drawn to such an individual (14). Unfortunately, according to Highet, not enough young people find these attributes in their teachers.
I had never thought of that before. It had never occurred to me that young people hate older folks because they see how inferior we are to them (at least in our ability to think and imagine well). Carrying this idea to its logical conclusion means that children likely often feel pity for us because we are so stuck in our ways.
I took out my notebook—the one I use to jot down ideas that will (hopefully) become more finished pieces of writing in the future—and started scribbling like there was no tomorrow. It’s as if someone had found the light switch to my brain and turned it on.
I’m only a couple of chapters into the two tomes I’ve mentioned, but I’ve already taken copious notes and am percolating a few blog ideas.
I’m happy to report that things seem to be moving again!
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.
If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.