Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Writer’s block

Posted on July 25, 2009 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated July 26, 2009 12:00 AM

It was driving me nuts. I had been staring at my monitor on and off for hours, and I could not even get a whiff of a sentence out, much less an idea on what to write about. My self-imposed deadline for this column falls on a Monday, the first day of the week. I feel I should get it out of the way so that I can feel more relaxed in the following days and enjoy my week. But there I was late Monday night, hopelessly attempting to write with not even a word to show for it.

Normally, if nothing is getting me interested enough to start writing, I check my mail, go to Facebook, Multiply or my WordPress account to see if people have commented on anything I have written, or just to catch up on postings by friends. Then I go back to try and write. But this time, this didn’t seem to work.

Writer’s block, no doubt, can hijack one’s creativity, and for someone who writes a weekly column, it can be terrifying. It makes me feel like a sailboat without a sail, a sports car without wheels, a comic without a gag, or Sisyphus trying to push a huge rock up a cliff. In moments like these, my attempts at writing seem not only like poorly launched endeavors but miserably failed ones.

And one of the causes of writer’s block, I believe, is the expectation of writing a good piece. “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently,” said Anna Quindlen. And because the Muse seems not to be amused enough at our attempts to take pity on us and share inspiration, a writer can get panicky. And the more he does, the harder it is to write.

I’ve had this vague, not really well-thought-out theory for sometime now that I can only do one kind of writing at a time. It’s either writing books or columns, or it’s the other kind that got me started writing in the first place. And it’s brought about by the fact that I have not had a real opportunity to do both for long stretches.

I am talking of songwriting. I have no solid scientific study to back this up but I base it on personal experience. I can’t ever recall a time when I was doing both essay writing and songwriting in a prolific manner at the same time. It has always seemed like it is either one or the other. It’s not that I can’t do it because there have been occasions when I needed to write songs while maintaining this weekly column and I have had no trouble doing it. Songwriting is still easy to do for me but the lack of big projects and the deadline of a weekly column deprive me of the urgency to keep at it on a regular basis. And so it’s just been this column for the most part.

To me, they are two different disciplines. My method at songwriting involves marinating myself in a mood or an idea, a musical or lyrical hook before I even attempt to write a song. I just let things percolate inside. From a germ of a mood or a pinch of a concept, it soon becomes an elaborate feeling that hangs around the free spaces of my mind. At this point, I begin sensing the song becoming more animated, and insistent about being expressed, like an itch that needs scratching or a spirit that needs incarnating.

That’s the only time I reach for a guitar or sit at my piano and attempt to write the song. When it is easy (and for the most part it is), it’s done anywhere from a few minutes to about an hour and a half. If it seems like it will go beyond that, I get the feeling that it was prematurely labored on my end. I usually stop all attempts for a while until I sense a more opportune time. Without trivializing the process, it is pretty much like the biological need to go to the toilet. When it’s ready, it comes out easy. When you push it, it’s difficult.

But with writing, the dynamic is different. Or at least it feels like it. Perhaps it’s because readers write back and give their reactions more quickly from the time I write it, unlike creating songs that take time to produce and release as a finished product.

There is much truth in the Taoist adage about going with the flow, or “not resisting,” that can be helpful in any kind of writing, or any kind of art, for that matter. When we are fixated at the outcome or finished product, it can get quite intimidating. But when we “just write,” it works out better.

The key, I think, is to write unconditionally. That’s when the flow happens. It means not getting caught up in being your own worst critic, or falling into the expectation trap by comparing your present work to your previous ones. The only sane way to look at the work you are doing at any moment and give it the chance to become something decent or even great is to tell yourself that this is the state of the art of where you are, right in this moment.

We learn through Zen that it is good to recognize that this moment is not like any other, and what you are doing is the sum total of all your thoughts, feelings and moods right now. There may have been times when things were better or worse, but that is not what it is all about. What is important is what you are expressing at the present time.

Maya Angelou talks about “just writing,” even if badly, to convince her Muse that she is serious about it and thus may take pity on her and give her the inspiration to do great writing. Gertrude Stein put it more bluntly when she said that, “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” Other writers have expressed the same idea in different ways.

Writer’s block can seem like traversing aimlessly in a dry arid dessert that looks like it has no beginning and no end. But if you keep at it, sooner or later, some faint patches of green begin to appear, then perhaps not too far away, an oasis of inspiration refreshes and reanimates the writer’s dried-up soul.

The more I think about it, and the more I do it, the more I believe that writing is life itself. The first thing one has to do in one’s life is to show up for it. If you don’t show up for your own life, dreams and desires, absolutely nothing will happen to you. The first requisite to being alive is presence. Just be there for a start and soon enough, you become at home in the spacious landscape that is your creativity and you may even pitch a makeshift tent till you decide to transplant yourself there and eventually grow roots and bloom.

And the better you are at being wholly present — meaning being there with all your heart and mind and soul and senses — the better you become at writing.

A writer writes. A painter paints. It’s as simple as that. To try and write “the best article ever,” or attempt to pose as a master at what you do can often subvert the very act of creating. More than attempts at mastery, it works better when we marvel at the mystery of things to feel alive.

* * *

It’s going to happen next Monday. “Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop” is on. Join me on August 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 at 7 to 9 p.m. and discover the joy and aliveness of the creative life. I will awaken in you the life force that will make you creative and joyful.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions or reservations. You can also visit http://www.tappingthecreativeuniverse.com for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it. Do not miss out. Definitely the last one this year.

10 to “Writer’s block”

  1. Ate Sienna says:

    Hi Jim,

    Your comments system is working now :)

  2. jimparedes says:

    Thanks Ate sienna…

  3. I totally get what you have written in this post Jim, and concur that the ability to marvel at the mystery of things or even to look and wonder is such an exciting enough prospect that one has not to worry or even be confused about fleeting visits of a muse. I always strive to see through “newer” eyes, or experience the mundane through the eyes of another. Such endeavours always reveal elements I had failed to see and imagine previously. In short, I am always enlarged by the added perspective of others.

  4. deuts says:

    It’s OT here, actually. I liked your new design. At least a white background. i don’t have to strain my eyes to go through your articles.

  5. Marili R. says:

    Hello Apo Jim,

    You’ve probably heard about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. My go-to tool. It is a rather democratic approach to extracting the inner workings of the self not only for writing but also for understanding the challenges of day to day living.

    It is not some structured how-to of writing and it’s not even what you would call a diary. It asks you to write what comes to mind – without self-editing and therefore self-criticism. Early morning before work, for me, is the best time for cranking out 2 or 3 pages of random uncensored thoughts. I usually read them after about a month and discover that some things have been revealed, have taken shape or have since made sense.

    Sometimes some semblance of a coherent point emerges. Sometimes you get an “aha!” moment when that one perfect word turns up to tie everything together.

    But then again, I don’t have to deal with deadlines now like you do, self-imposed or otherwise. I only have a little blog that I fill in whenever. LOL.

    Big fan, by the way.

    Marili M.R.

  6. BabyPink says:

    lately, i’ve been having bouts with writer’s block myself. i was just talking about it with a student of mine. hay. and, it’s a good thing to know that i’m not the only one. :)

  7. Some people say writing needs discipline and that you must set aside a certain time each day and just write.

    For me? I find that my best writing comes with inspiration. When I’m inspired, the words just flow out and I end up with pieces that make me go “I wrote that?!” when I read them months later.

    Inspiration comes easiest for me when it’s quiet and peaceful enough for me to think. When my mind is filled with all sorts of thoughts and worry but I still force myself to write, I *can* come up with something but it’s just the same.

    I guess, for me, writing is like composing for you.

    P.S. Love the new layout. The previous template that used white text on black background was quite a strain on the eyes.

    • jimparedes says:

      Same with me. But since I don’t always have that ‘atmospheric silence’ (Manila is a noisy town), I have to pull out the silence within me to write.

  8. anjalina says:

    hello sir jim :) thank you for your thought-provoking and inspiring blogs. love the line here which says “The first requisite to being alive is presence.”

    more power to you!



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