I’ve been stuck lately working on a chapter in the novel. I know, it happens to writers all the time. The writing rarely flows continuously without a hiccup here or there to slow things down. Like the washboard surfaces on the dirt roads that were so much fun to ride my bike over when I was kid, I may keep writing and writing, but sometimes the words come out with a struggle, all bumpy and hard. Other times, the words for a particular scene may not come at all, even if I know what happens next. I was mulling over the flow of writing and the idea of writer’s block the other day while making dinner. As I stirred the pasta sauce and it bubbled away, the image of a wall came to mind. Not any kind of wall, an old stone wall. The kind that used to separate farm land before modern fences and the kind that are used to build walls and terraces here on the Amalfi Coast. The kind that fall apart and need to be rebuilt. The first line from Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” ran through my head, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Writers, I thought. Writers don’t like walls.
When I’m stuck, it’s often not because I don’t know what I’m trying to write or what is happening next. That’s writer’s block, for me, when you find yourself unable to describe what you’re writing or what’s happening next. I often get stuck waiting for the right words to come. I can be a frustrating experience when at other times they come so easily. But I’m not one to sit around waiting for Inspiration to arrive, and my work as full time freelance writer has taught me that Inspiration ain’t ever going to show up at your door with a project fully written by a deadline if you don’t roll up your sleeves and work hard at it.
I see these periods of struggle more like a wall rather than a block. Sometimes they fall down naturally, just like the stone walls Frost describes putting back together each spring with this neighbor. Ideas expand and swell the tiny gaps and send the walls tumbling down just like ice in the winter. Other times you can peek through a hole and find it just large enough to squeeze through and get to the other side. If that fails, there’s always the good old bulldozer. Put on the work boots and helmet, pick up the pen, and plow right on through. (It’s an imaginative wall anyway, so what does it matter how big of a mess you make?) All that matters is that you end up on the other side with some words on a piece of paper or typed on the computer. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter how good they are. That’s what editing is for, right?
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
What do you do to break through walls that block your creative process?