How to get and un-get (yes, that’s a word) Writer’s Block

Part two of two on blocked creativity and learning to self-care. In which I share some of the skills I have learnt to combat writer’s block and forming good creative habits.

After living in Berlin for 2 years, it has been hard to move to such an expensive, capitalist city as Toronto. With the low cost of living in Berlin, I was able to just about survive working seasonally in summer camps and doing the occasional editing job. Each day I had the option of how to spend my time.

Granted, then, as now, I often misspent my time. Too afraid of my own power to spend each moment alive and listening. But I feel like I did a lot more listening (and, as a result, creating) then than I do now. This is OK I guess. It’s not OK that I am sad, frustrated with and hating on myself right now. But it’s OK because I know that, any moment, this situation can change. I can sit down, as I am now, and listen. This makes it OK because right now I am listening. Right now I am creating. And now is, of course, where we all live.

It’s amazing how much calmer I feel just writing this. How much more in control of my life I am. It’s this feeling that I am running from. Being present makes me realise I can take control. And if I control things, then I have the ultimate responsibility for my actions. I become responsible for the way I treat others and myself, how I spend my time. A fulfilling job, healthy relationships, a creative life. All of these things become – are – attainable.

This is how Toronto makes me feel. It used to be an ad in British Columbia before it was pulled. Thanks M.M. McGlynn
This is how Toronto makes me feel. It used to be an ad in British Columbia before it was pulled. Thanks M.M. McGlynn

The question of time and money becomes even more urgent in an expensive, capitalist city like Toronto. Like London, the struggle to pay rent, buy food – to survive – feels far more urgent than it did in Berlin. When my minimum income doesn’t cover my expenses, I easily stress out. Having low self-esteem when it comes to employment, I spend a lot of time panicking and very little applying to jobs. I feel like I deserve a good job and fair pay, yet find it hard to believe anyone in the media industry will ever see that potential in me unless I sell myself very aggressively. I put a lot of pressure on myself to work hard, which results in me freaking out and running away from my desires and responsibilities – in short, from myself.

I don’t like selling my skills. I do believe that I have a lot of talent, yet my experience in the middle-class world of media has scarred me. Afraid that employers will be scared off by my politics, I undermine myself at the same time as believing I am better than everyone else. It’s this toxic mixture of arrogance and insecurity that leads to a feeling of hopelessness.

In situations like these, where I feel the pressure of survival, being present becomes my most important task. And because of this immense pressure I put on myself, it is also the thing I find hardest to allow myself to do.

When I moved to Berlin in 2010 I was extremely depressed. I was suicidal, on-and-off, that whole year and leaving London felt like my only chance of escape. In London, I felt no opportunity to get better, to carve out a life for myself. Between the 2 rush hours it took me to get to work everyday, the expense of rent and transportation, and no time and money left over to do anything fun, I felt there was no space for me. London invaded all of me. I was lost in an unfriendly sea.

Berlin was never enticing for itself. Berlin was appealing because it was an escape. It was the place I learnt some essential survival techniques and finally began to confront myself.

In Berlin, I learnt that time spent by myself – in silence, nature and adventuring – is the most self-loving, scary and productive gift I can give myself. I learnt that I am infinitely creative – I love drawing, dancing, singing, photography – and I enjoy exploring that. I also learnt that I am, above all, committed to the art of writing. Writing is where I can truly realise my potential. Writing is where I belong.

Comic by Ben Claasen. Source: WashingtonCityPaper.com
Comic by Ben Claasen. Source: WashingtonCityPaper.com

Two years ago, I followed The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and started writing every morning for half an hour. This stream of consciousness helps me vent and gain perspective for the day. I also learnt the self-love that comes from taking myself on a date once a week. These two tools finally allowed me to start writing on a regular basis, for the first time in my life. It also led me to create a successful blog, zine and write controversial articles for online magazines. Heck, I even wrote some poetry!

Now, living in Toronto, I am once again resisting the revelations (revolution!) that come from using these self-love skills. I use dating and unemployment as an excuse for spending my days freaking out over nothing in particular, rather than engaging in the daily drudge and acute concentration that would actually lead me somewhere – to write, send articles out, submit job applications.

I am wary of making commitments to stop or start doing something forever. If I promise myself I will never binge eat again, the next time I do, I’ll just beat myself up even more. I really don’t need any more self-loathing in my life. So, for now, I’m not going to say I’m going to write my morning pages every day and do my artist’s date once a week. I’m not going to say I’m going to work on my creative writing for 2 hours every morning, or post on this blog once a week. Because I know that if I don’t keep that promise to myself, I’ll end up hating and blocking myself even more. Sometimes self-care is just letting myself be.

A good friend once said to me she had stopped promising herself she would never self-harm again. Because then, when she did self-harm, the compounded disappointment and guilt made her feel even worse about herself. Every night, when I go to sleep, I don’t say I will always be OK. I say, right now, in this moment, I am breathing, I am alive and I am OK.