You’re Not “Blocked,” You’re Just Empty

Allison Burney

Writer Anne Lamott’s advice for how to fill yourself back up

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I sat down at my computer just before 6:30 am, with the plan to get my writing done for the day before I even dropped my partner off at work.

But it turns out, that plan was not to be.

I sat there, staring at the page for about 15 minutes until the alarm clock started blaring in the bedroom, and I heard him start to shuffle. He groaned and sighed his way out to the living room, where he proceeded to plunk down on the couch, still half asleep.

I stared at the page some more, all the while thinking about how I’d rather spend the next half hour cuddled up with him on the couch, instead of sitting here fighting with this stupid blank page.

But because we are taught to fight, rather than accept, I continued to sit there and stare the page down for another few minutes.

In Bird by Bird, writer Anne Lamott says:

We have all been there, and it feels like the end of the world.…Here’s the thing, though. I no longer think of it as block. I think that is looking at the problem from the wrong angle.…The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.

She is referring to the dreaded topic of writer’s block, and talking about how writers tend to go nuts when they can’t think of anything to write.

Rather than accepting it and being okay with it, they try to fight it, forcing themselves to sit and stare at blank pages for hours a day, willing words to come out, when they already know it’s not going to work.

Lamott’s suggestion is not to fight it, but to accept it.

Just recognize that for whatever reason, there’s nothing happening right now — so leave it alone. Get up, go out and do something else, and then come back to it later and see if anything’s changed.

The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality you have been given — that you are not in a productive creative period — you free yourself to begin filling up again.
— Anne Lamott

Since I’d just started a new 30-day writing challenge yesterday and I already felt like quitting, I decided that maybe it was best to follow her advice. Writing had taken a back seat for the time being, and I knew it. There was no point in continuing to deny it.

Finally, my desire for comfort and warmth and cuddling overrode my instinct to stay and battle the blank page.

I got up from my desk, walked over to the couch, and draped myself along the length of his body, like a cat curling up by the fireplace — and it was so peaceful and perfect. Those 10 minutes of silence, just before the sun came up and the day began, were like heaven.

We stayed like that until he had to get ready for work, and then I dropped him off. I came home and did my morning routine. After that, of course, things got busy and work tasks quickly took over, charging full steam ahead for the remainder of the day.

But I noticed that as the day went on, a number of different writing ideas came to me!

Perhaps the problem isn’t that we don’t have anything to say; it’s that we don’t allow ourselves to be empty.

We need to learn to accept that things don’t always happen when we want them to happen.

Sometimes we have to be patient or change course for a little while, and then come back to it later with fresh eyes.

Lamott says that instead of trying to will her way into having a breakthrough, she imagines that she may die tomorrow, and then asks herself what she should do today.

I can decide to read Wallace Stevens for the rest of the morning, or go to the beach or just really participate in ordinary life. Any of these will begin the process of filling me back up with observations, flavors, ideas, visions, memories.
— Anne Lamott

Just accept that you are empty, and allow space for the emptiness.

Then find ways to fill yourself up. The possibilities are endless.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

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Freelance writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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