"I had been avoiding problems by keeping constantly busy, and once our group settled in to do nothing but relax, I freaked right out."

How I Started Writing, and What I Do When I Can’t

I began writing two years ago in a moment of panic which, go figure, was sparked by a weekend trip to my roommate’s gorgeous cottage. I had been avoiding problems by keeping constantly busy, and once our group settled in to do nothing but relax, I freaked right out. We were sitting in the living room and playing a board game when my cheeks flushed and I felt my body flooding with misplaced adrenaline, my brain trying to convince me that this casual game of Apples to Apples was indeed a fight-or-flight scenario.

The panic was convincing. I grabbed my cellphone, my cup of tea, a blanket, spilled my tea on it, mentally swore, and finally ran outside without a word to my friends and made a bee-line for the hammock. And then I did something really weird. I wrote a short story on my phone—which, no surprise, was about a woman dealing with anxiety.

In that moment, I realized why creativity is so special. This sudden urge to create felt like a mixture of being possessed while also being as true to myself as I had felt in ages. I knew I wanted to pursue that feeling for the rest of my life. As I started writing more and more, and my fiction had less and less to do with me, the creativity high only grew. I had characters that seemed to enter my head out of nowhere, fully formed and walking around my head like they owned the place. It was really special.

But guess what? I’m writing this after a three-week dry spell. Boy is it dry and boy am I realizing that I have little to no sway over the process. People tell me to go for walks, read good books, look at art, but seriously, I just got back from Europe and no amount of atmosphere, warm spring temperatures, cathedrals, or delicious food sparked even an ounce of writing in me. My mind feels like a library that only stores books I’ve already read. It’s. So. Boring.

I think creativity is a basic human need, just like food and shelter. For me it’s writing, but for others it can be anything from teaching to sports to cooking. It’s a perfect blend of action and novelty: you use your past experiences and current talents to create something that didn’t exist before. Creativity is an essential way that we connect with life and the world. It’s like breathing.

So naturally, beyond the boredom, there’s negativity. When people feel stagnant they feel dissatisfied, often pointing the finger at themselves. I feel like anyone who experiences writer’s block has a fleeting thought that this may be it, that they may never have another good idea. I keep a Moleskine to jot down loose concepts, but lately I just look at it and think, was it really me who had all those great ideas? That couldn’t have been me; that girl’s way smarter than me. It’s frustrating to think that not only am I boring myself, but I’m using all this empty creative space to be self-critical. What a waste of time.

I’m learning (the hard-but-softened-with-pastries way) that part of the creative process is just accepting that it’s a system of constant change. Sometimes, like any silly human running around on this ever-changing planet, I get confused and assume that’s a bad thing. But if the thing I love most about feeling creative is that it feels like it’s out of my control, I have to accept that I don’t have as much influence over it as I would like. I can certainly hone my skills, but there’s nothing quite as good as that first moment you pick up a pen and things flow out that surprise you.

So now, while I wait, there’s really nothing else I can do except pick up one of those already-read books in my boring library and read like I’ve never read it before. I bet 10 to 1 that’s when my next idea will come.

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