As part of my writerly reading, I began a book that I think will be important: Victoria Nelson’s On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity.
From the beginning, Ms. Nelson presents resistance as a positive thing, to be explored for what it wants to tells us: “[The] inability to write means that the unconscious self is vetoing the program demanded by the conscious ego.” [italics hers]
I remember participating in NaNoWriMo in 2012 in order to finish a full draft of my historical middle grade novel. (The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. This time (I’d participated in the challenge once before), I decided to advance my work-in-progress rather than write something new. Who says you can’t adjust rules to suit real needs?)
I’d written a chunk of my novel already, and knew a lot about the plot and what I still had to write. But I didn’t know the ending. I plunged in anyway, figuring that the end would grow clearer as I approached it. I’d lay track right before the train got there, as it were.
So I wrote my 50,000 November words. Things went so well—my story advanced, my train moved along—that I continued “laying track” well into December. Then story and train came to an absolute halt. It wasn’t that the holidays derailed me. I just still didn’t know my story’s resolution.
This is what Victoria Nelson says about the resistance I experienced then, the resistance that most writers, most creators, likely will experience at times:
“Trying to muscle our way past resistance doesn’t work either. Picture the unconscious as being a bit like Switzerland, a tough little country with well-defined frontiers and apparently unlimited fiscal reserves. Invasions, coups, don’t get past the border. Responding correctly to a writer’s block means not forcing an entry but opening civilized diplomatic relations with an autonomous state that has clearly demonstrated it can’t be coerced. This is a painstaking process of human negotiation that may take a long, long time.”
It did for me. My novel sat there for more than a year, though I poked it now and then. Things got moving again when I took up another challenge, participating in a novel-revision workshop for which I needed to have a finished novel. Oh, it was hard. At times the train inched up steep, narrow inclines. At times it wanted to fall off wide curves. But the train made it into the station. The difference? In the meantime, iron ore had been mined, smelted, molded. I now knew the story’s end. Getting the train there took work, but the long, previous resistance had prepared the way for it.
What about you? Where are you stuck, and what do you think the resistance wants to tell you? Or what valuable lessons have you learned, as you opened civilized diplomatic relations with yourself during past resistances?