Writer’s block

I haven't had a really bad case of writer's block in a long time. I think this is because for the last five years or so, I've been writing on deadline for AfterEllen.com, other publications and, now, my publisher. I've always believed the the best cure for writer's block is a deadline. But that doesn't mean I've never had writer's block. The first couple of years after I graduated from college, I found it very difficult to write anything. In retrospect, I believe it's because I didn't know what I was doing with my life, much less what I wanted to write. Also, if I don't know what I want to write, I can't write it. I can't just sit down with a notebook or my laptop and say to myself: OK! Let's just write something! Anything! No, I have to have a plan, or at least a kernel of an idea about a plan.

If I have that kernel, I can sit down and write a few paragraphs or a scene or something that will help the kernel take root. Usually at this point, I find myself struggling to make sense of the root idea, trying to follow it through to the end, or clip it into the shape of something that makes sense. Sometimes I can't grasp what's going on, and then I sit there for a while, intermittently surfing the web and coming back to those paragraphs. If it becomes entirely futile and I feel myself getting all twitchy, I shut down the computer or put down the pen and go out for a walk.

Walking has been my savior countless times while writing. Last week I relied on it when I was writing my latest Notes & Queeries column for AfterEllen. I had the root, but it kept twisting out of my hands, and finally -- before I tore my hair out -- I went for a walk in Deer Park. Here's one of the trails I took (pic from my cell phone camera):

Deer Park is full of incredible trees -- redwoods and oak and bay trees and madrones -- and the beauty of the place never ceases to be an inspiration. Although most of the trees in the park keep their leaves year-round, a few have been turning colors even though they're in California. Here's one of them:

While I walk, I try to not think about what I'm stuck on. It may seem weird that I get over writer's block by not thinking about what I'm writing, but it works. I think this is because getting blocked is like becoming extremely frustrated and consequently closed off to new ideas. All sorts of scratchy, irritating thoughts are crowding into my head, many of them demanding, "What's wrong with you?" Taking a walk, breathing the fresh air, looking at leaves and the moss on tree trunks and the tiny flowers clinging to the edge of the trail -- all of that clears out those frustrating thoughts.

When I come back to the writing, my mind is clearer, and hopefully it is open. Having an open mind is of paramount importance when writing: the doors have to open so that the words can come through.

Walking works whether you're in the city or in the country. When I lived in San Francisco, I hiked vigorously up the hill on 21st Street, and then descended down to Noe Valley and circled back uphill again. The Victorian and Edwardian houses in those neighborhoods are just as inspiring, in their own way, as the trees in Deer Park.

Last week I was especially pleased to see lots of red berries, as if they knew it's almost time for the holidays. I'm not sure what they are (hawthorn berries?), but they looked positively magical with the sunlight streaming in at the upper right:

After the walk, I came back and wrote my Notes & Queeries column (it'll be published on AfterEllen.com later this month). Nothing about Deer Park is in the column, but I know that what I saw out on my walk made it into those words.