I almost never have writer’s block, but I’ve had it recently. That’s at least partly a function of having published somewhere between 150 and 200 pieces on this website.
Here’s the thing. Writer’s block does exist. It’s often a byproduct of mental fatigue. It can also be caused by what I’ll call “bad living.”
In my particular case, my being creatively blocked—sounds a lot like constipation—is a result of some bad habits I’ve fallen into just as the other kind of “getting stuck” can result from unhealthy eating practices. In other words, I’m guilty of living poorly recently, and now I’m paying the price by being incapable of getting things to “move.”
I should have known better. Back when I was a full-time teacher of writing to university students, I often used to say—it became a kind of teaching truism—that bad product often results from bad process. If a person doesn’t go about some creative act in the right way, then it is far more likely that no satisfying creative product will result. In other words, beautiful or insightful or thought-provoking works don’t often happen accidentally. (I do believe in the power of serendipity though.) They come after we prepare the soil for planting and then do all the watering and pruning and nurturing that’s needed.
I’ll say it again. I haven’t been living right. Though I have a long list of bad habits I’ve fallen into and could share with you, I’ll focus on one in particular—I haven’t been reading enough.
After all, how can a person who writes have anything interesting to say to others if he’s stopped listening to interesting things said by others?
So, I went to the library and checked out three books: The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet, Teaching as a Subversive Act by Neil Postman and Charles Weingarten, and Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation by Paulo Freire and Antonio Faundez.
I started with the first two on my list and found that they were complementary, so I started reading alternating chapters in each one. I’d read the first chapter in the Highet text and then the first in the Postman and Weingartner book. I almost immediately started encountering ideas that set my mind to whirring. For example, Highet writes, when discussing why some students don’t listen in class, that, “Young people hate grown-ups for many reasons. One of the reasons is that they feel grown-ups’ minds are fixed and limited” (14). The author then goes on to say that when young people meet an older person who is still excited by life and open to thinking in “childish” ways, they are naturally drawn to such an individual (14). Unfortunately, according to Highet, not enough young people find these attributes in their teachers.
I had never thought of that before. It had never occurred to me that young people hate older folks because they see how inferior we are to them (at least in our ability to think and imagine well). Carrying this idea to its logical conclusion means that children likely often feel pity for us because we are so stuck in our ways.
I took out my notebook—the one I use to jot down ideas that will (hopefully) become more finished pieces of writing in the future—and started scribbling like there was no tomorrow. It’s as if someone had found the light switch to my brain and turned it on.
I’m only a couple of chapters into the two tomes I’ve mentioned, but I’ve already taken copious notes and am percolating a few blog ideas.
I’m happy to report that things seem to be moving again!
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.
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25 thoughts on “The Result of “Bad Living””
I agree. Writer’s block does exist. I think that there are many ways to overcome it. Some are very artificial, and much of it involves writing a lot of crap. But reading is one of the best ways to kick it – perhaps reading and then writing about something that the act of reading (whatever you just read) has done for you – it may not be something you want to publish, or even post, but the act of writing makes the act of writing something good a whole lot easier. The more I write, the more I want to write, and the more ideas I have. It’s a catch 22 situation, and you have to start somewhere, even if it is tripe.
Thanks for sharing your experience. I find that as well when I create my advice tips…I need to feed my brain with motivating podcasts and overall discussions.
Hello. I’ve always found TED Talks really inspiring. What sort of podcasts do you like to listen to? Thanks for commenting.
Hi. You’ve got a bunch of excellent ideas and insights here. Like you, the more I write, the more I want to write and the easier it gets. Thanks so much for the comment.
I myself have found that keeping your other ‘maintenance duties’ on track does help free up more mental space for creative pursuits. So eating healthy, exercising, and having things like the bills and chores sorted does make it feel more fulfilling when it comes time to write. Almost as if there’s nothing better I should be spending my time on. Gotta earn that though. Anyway, thanks for this post!
Totally agree. I’m better at everything when I’m fit and exercising regularly. Thanks for reading and commenting.
A very thought-provoking post, Troy. The suggestions are helpful. I try to keep a file of ideas and drafts which I work on when I feel like it. I am retired, so I don’t allow myself to become too upset by “writers block.” I do need to get better sleep and more exercise as you suggest. All the best! 🙂
Hi, Cheryl. I’m not retired yet, but I’m moving in that direction and looking forward to the day I can “hang up my spurs.” Your file of ideas and such sounds a lot like my notebooks. Lots of things that I jot down never become anything more than a notation, but one never knows, so it’s good to write ideas down as they come. Yes, sleep and exercise helps too. Thanks for reading and commenting.
I’m so glad that you’re taking copious notes and that you’re percolating with a few blog ideas. They’ll come, and I can assure you that when you flesh them out I’ll be eagerly anticipating what you share.
Thanks, Art. I’m enjoying your writings too! I’m so happy we reached out to you and you said yes. Take care and happy writing!
You’re welcome, Troy! Thank you for your kind words. Take care, too!
Young people hate grown-ups for many reasons. One of the reasons is that they feel grown-ups’ minds are fixed and limited” (14). The author then goes on to say that when young people meet an older person who is still excited by life and open to thinking in “childish” ways, they are naturally drawn to such an individual (14).
This is in so many ways true. Many grown ups loose flexibility and the childish curiosity. And that is what we need to feel the vitality
Picasso once said something like the following (I’m paraphrasing) when he was asked why he liked painting in such abstract ways: That it took him a lifetime to learn to paint like a child. Lots of wisdom in what the great artist said! Thanks for commenting.
I found «Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life» inspiring. You can find the audiobook on YouTube.
Reading as a cure for writing – what a great insight! I love seeing the result of your process. Thanks, Troy!
Thank you, Wynne. Do you ever get stuck for ideas? If so, what works for you?
I’ve been on a Postman kick for a few years. He’s my go-to for inspiration in many areas. After you read Teaching as a Subversive Activity, read the follow-up Teaching as a Conserving Activity. His other books on teaching (End of Education, for example) were eye-opening for me. I’m now reading some of his inspirations such as Alfred Korzybski and John Dewey. Keep reading, writing, and thinking, Troy.
It’s great to hear from another teacher! I’ll certainly read the book you suggested. Have you read The Art of Teaching? Some of the best stuff on teaching in the English language! The tome was published in 1950 but still incredibly relevant today. Highet builds a strong case for why everyone should see teaching as one of the noblest of professions. Take care and keep on truckin.
When I get stuck in a funk, it’s usually because I’m not doing the things that are good for me—the things that make me feel good about myself when I do them. It then becomes an exercise in exercising the will to get myself moving in the right direction. Your post gives me a little bit of a prod to start back on the journey. Thanks Troy!
Hi, Julia. It sounds as if we’re very similar. A certain inertia sets in after a bit of time and it takes real determination to change directions. I totally hear you! Thanks for commenting, and I’m hoping you get started again very soon.
I agree with you that you can get ideas by reading others. Unless you live in a very adventurous way! Nice insights, Troy!
The books sound intriguing. Young people disliking older people! That surely is new.
And well writer’s block exists, and so does the willingness to write on some occasions. I feel so torn between reading, reading other blogs, chores, my work and everything else in between that writing often takes a backseat.
I must admit, I could heavily relate to this post! I might be arguably young starting out as a writer, but writer’s block leaves no writer at bay, it will get you some time or the other. Many at times I do have experienced blocks in my thought process, but reading always jolts me away into writing again!
I also have a blog here on wordpress (https://thoughtsofahuman.home.blog/) where I write through-provoking and unique short stories along with articles on our philosophy, mental well-being and life in general. Would really appreciate if you have a look at it 🙂
Stay safe and keep writing!
He, I never thought of that! I had postulated that eating acid might help the creative process, but completely forgot that consuming good words might be more appropriate. Thanks for that. 😃