Writer’s block. Ooh. Did you feel it? The contraction of the loins, the steel wool in the sinuses? Did you look up, half expecting an Abrahamic eyebrow lowering over the sun to cast a disapproving shadow that falls only on the wretched scriveners? There’s something antediluvian about the term, the implied self-flagellation, the functioning as description and confession— identifiying, with one gesture, the convalescent and condemned, the benighted soul under both care and captivity of their own internal medieval church, the Hôtel-Dieu of their own subconscious.
It’s a suggestion (or is it accusation?) of alienation, in two conflicting but mutually-reinforcing senses: the Christian’s alienation from fickle grace, and the Marxist’s alienation from the material conditions of creation. Either way, we remain subject to an affliction over and against which we insist have no power, for which we are sometimes to blame, sometimes not— the two states vascillating so rapidly through each other that we are placed, essentially, in an abusive relationship with our own creativity.
How often do we hear about “blocked” bus drivers, or bankers, or Nurse Practitioners, or plumbers? A plumber will deal with a dozen blocked pipes a day, but she never blames the pipe, and certainly never blames herself. If the plumber worked the way a writer does, she would declare in prideful self-reproach that the pipe was blocked as the karmic result of her having shown up to unblock the pipe— then spend the rest of the week getting up early for an hour of unstructured “free plumbing,” repentance doubling as professional development in a kind of spiritual tax write-off shared only by the priesthood.
Consciously or not, many writers are eager to enter pharmakos— the ancient Greek practice of killing, stoning, or exiling someone (pharmakoi) in order to redeem the whole community. “Pharmacy” comes from here, and “pharmaceuticals” from the pharmakeus given the pharmakoi before exile. Today it’s espresso, alcohol, writing workshops, and fluffing up cheap sex as the search for a muse that prepare so many for exile in to the liminal lands of the “creative” life, where “creative” people wander in sackcloth and laptop bags, redeeming the rest for the sins of our economic system. The first pharmakoi were usually already on the way out, in one way or another, and chosen because of it. To actively nominate oneself for the role requires the special combination of stupidity and arrogance held only by writers. We take on the job— unsolicited— of existing in both worlds, internalizing the secular pressure of the market to produce and to perform, while holding ourselves to a near-celestial standard not seen anywhere else on that plane.
For all the counter-cultural pretense of those who identify as artists, it’s artists who measure themselves more than anyone else. We set up a bulkhead in ourselves between our artistic self and our mundane self, and the latter jealously surveils the former for any signs of failure.
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Consider that the work of winemaking consists very little in the selling of wine, and overwhelmingly in the patience of the grapes and the earth – and that even after this, thers’s still the picking, blending, tending, fermenting. And drinking. Consider especially the drinking. Consider that the product is little more than a medium for certain desires to know themselves differently, an idea given the barest physical reality necessary to set things to spinning around them. To draw people toward them.
In other words — here’s the short version — consider that “writer’s block” is a social construct, the result of a culture which privileges product over process, speed over completion, authorship(/authority) over collectivity(/responsibility), discrete individual success over shared indefinite creation. Consider the extent to which you might have come to accept shame and anxiety as inevitable to pursuing artistic ‘productivity.’ Consider who profits by this.
Consider the “piece” and how much of your work is caught in its orbit. Notice every time you don’t follow an instinct or emotion because it won’t become a “piece,” because it has no “market” or “audience.” Notice how nothing comes of doing so. (And consider that an art, an act, can create its own audience. A sound can sometimes make the listener. People sometimes love most what they didn’t know they were listening for til they heard it. This doesn’t always happen; it doesn’t never happen.)
Consider the possibility that “when an author treats herself as a sweatshop from which to extract the maximum yield, her creative faculties are bound to go on strike like any exploited workforce.” (CrimeThinc) If this is bad news to you when it happens, then you’re on the wrong side— which is pretty impressive, since there’s only one side to be on, and that’s your own. The problem goes beyond that you’ve been treating yourself like a factory— it’s that you’ve been in a relationship of ownership with yourself at all. Freelancers like to say that we’re “our own boss.” People tell us to think of ourselves as “our own personal brand,” and we nod wearily when we should be lighting pitchforks (and yes I am proposing some kind of incendiary pitchfork, and yes I accept grant money by PayPal). We’re both the owner and the product? Well how precisely the hell did we think that was going to end?
Consider that the fish doesn’t need the bicycle, that neither boss-you nor employee-you need each other. Consider that accepting the validity of division of labour(ers) might not be the best idea for someone trying to feel more whole.
Consider that your first real step as a writer might be to stop identifying as a writer.
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The specialist is a relatively recent invention. Artistic work precedes any arrangement in which the individual is expected to succeed in one endeavour- and often forfeit their right to gain experience in others- in order to fill a specific role within a mechanism of profit-generation. Listen with the body for the older, deeper rhythms. Remember that you are never just doing one thing, that writing is also rhythmic, that rhythm is also a form of sculpting, that sculpture is musical, that music is narrative, that narrative is always social. A (capitalized) Writer (or Singer, or etc.) is to the artist as a Bodybuilder who lives in front of the mirror is to someone with real strength, someone who lives in their body. Live in your artistic body, not your self-image as Totally Not Blocked Artist.
If your writing feels blocked, remember: the fastest swimmers move their arms less often. And to extend the aquatic metaphor (sure sign of a blocked writer), if your writing feels blocked, take that literally, and remember that writing (the act of writing, of pulling a pen across a page, talking to yourself while a recorder listens, playing whack-a-mole with tiny alphanumeric buttons) is the tap, and not the water. Drill another hole or seven in the barrel. Go dancing. Dust off your camera. Learn the difference between different kinds of eye. Sit completely still and silent. Get arrested breaking stupid laws then write a song about it in your holding cell. Focus on sharing the water, not serving the faucet. Kill the Really Quite Successful Writer in your head.
You’ve chosen work that is fairly simple: to be in touch. This is what will keep you alive. And keeping alive is the work you’ce chosen. Don’t treat it as piecework — it’s more than the pieces we produce to publish or perform. It’s the open questions we choose, and the choice we make to embody them.
Your work is your process of working. Your work is immersing yourself in your life and its questions. This isn’t a choice made once then settled. The mind wants to float. Wants to find the surface of everything. So each morning, each minute, each moment, we have to hold it down til it remembers its gills again. And when the thrashing stops, we can open to the currents. The small vibrations of things that matter. We can follow them to their end, and whatever they bring or bring us to, we tend to it, expecting no result, no product, expecting only that we are always being brought something, and it can always make us feel something, and this is enough. Certainly, it’s so much more than almost everything else.
Believe that if a question arises in you, it is good and important to follow it to its answers, even if they can’t fit in a pen. The hydrologic cycle can’t fit in a glass, either. The work is to live in your questions and their cycles, wherever you are— and whenever possible, where you are should be where people are. Especially “your” people, whatever that means to you.
If you don’t know what that means to you, then maybe the work, for now, is to find out. There are worse places to start. As for how— remove the unnecessary, and have faith that the space created won’t destroy you, even if you don’t fill it right away.
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 “Free writing” is one useful tool, among many— it’s not a panacea. Only the writer over-identified as a Writer, who has internalized both our culture’s secular division of labour and religious concept of purity, can separate writing from the world in which it happens, and so propose spaces where “pure” writing occurs. This is like sitting on the edge of the pool and breathing hard. This is like riling people up over an issue through immaculate rhetoric but then offering no outlet for concrete (if imperfect) political action, a practice generally referred to as “consciousness raising” but more properly seen as, simply, really fucking disempowering, because it isn’t capacity-raising. Freedom exists only in contrast to the borders against which it presses.
 “Rather than open offensives, Empire prefers more intricate methods, chronic preventative measures, the molecular diffusion of constraint into everyday life. Here, internal police conveniently take over for general policing. [...] A whole imperial project of diversion, interference, and polarization of bodies centred on absences and impossibilities is at work. [...F]or us, ever gesture, every desire, every affect encounters, at some distance, the need to annihilate Empire[.]” – Tiqqun, Theory of the Young Girl. Swap professionalized, capitalized “Creativity” for Empire, and for police the “internal censor” that determines which artistic impulses will be economical (productive; lead to “pieces”) and which won’t, and the passage remains intelligible.