Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram have probably met my rescue pups, Molly and Penny. I post a lot about them there, mostly because they’re cute, but also because they are always teaching me something. Specifically Penny, my Australian cattle dog/poodle mix, who literally crashed into my life like a raging tornado almost four years ago.
I say that with love, of course. Because I love her to death. But when I first got her, I had no idea if I would survive her. Neither did Molly, my other dog. Molly came home just a week before Penny arrived, and let’s just say she’s a completely different dog. Which is great. They all have their own unique personalities just like us—we know this. And dang, does Penny have a strong personality!
More on that later (I could tell MANY stories about her first year) but she did something just last week that could actually be a a great lesson all writers can take to heart.
We just moved to a new place with a balcony and a sliding door. This sliding door is different than my last one in that it actually has a screen door behind it. At my old place, there was no screen so I had to put up my own. And it wasn’t a door, just a screen you could hang to keep the bugs out. So the dogs were used to running right through it.
A couple times since we moved here, Penny has headbutted the new (real) screen door in a rush to get out when I opened the big door. But this time, she had enough of a running start to actually bust through it. Like, right through the screen.
I was annoyed. Now I had to call maintenance to come fix it, and in the meantime, flies and all kinds of other things had unobstructed entry into my domain. It was, in short, a nuisance. But I admired her reluctance to let this flimsy barrier keep her from getting what she wanted most—to get outside and bark at the dogs on the street below.
It’s a pretty awesome metaphor, don’t you think? As writers, we (I totally do, and I’m assuming most of you do too) spend a lot of time beating our heads against a metaphorical wall, and I’m willing to bet it’s more solid than a screen door. We let our brains and our egos get in the way and overthink every damn word we’re putting on the page, as if once it’s written it’s set in stone and can’t ever be changed.
This is one of the worst habits we have. It stops us in our tracks, it holds us back, it halts the creative flow. And it’s easy to call this writer’s block and use it as an excuse to stop any kind of creative output.
The best way through it is to throw away expectations for whatever you’re putting on the page. The next time you’re running into the screen door and feeling the resistance, practice these three steps:
- Pause and take a few deep breaths. Reset yourself. I know when I’m feeling stuck, my energy gets frantic. I immediately put all this pressure on: I need to finish my word count, I can’t sit here all day, I’ve gotta get something down or the day is a wash. Breathing consciously will pull you out of that energy and let you see the situation differently.
- Open up a new document, or get a blank sheet of paper. Tell yourself it’s a practice session, and you can just write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes if we’re working in our “official” document, it encourages perfectionist thinking. If you’re using a practice page or unofficial document, it’s easier to just start letting the thoughts flow. And more likely than not, you’ll get some ideas or inspiration that will come off your practice page and into your “real” work.
- Get up and move your body. Do a few jumping jacks, or a walk around the block. Sometimes the energy just gets stagnant and we have to get it moving again. Then come back and see how you’re feeling. If you still need a practice document, do it! Otherwise you may find your words are just flowing again.
Our blocks are just in our minds. They can’t stop us unless we let them. We’re way stronger than that flimsy screen door. Just ask Penny.