I want to talk about “blocks”.
I meet with a lot of writers and I keep hearing about the same basic blocks:
1. The Unknown Block
You sit down, all your tools available, you’ve put aside three hours, your phone is off, you have the house to yourself or you scored a table at your favourite cafe, you’re all set up but nothing is coming out. Maybe you secretly think everything is stupid. Maybe you’re being shy and insecure. Maybe you’re overthinking. Whatever it is, some unknown block is fucking up your flow.
2. The Content Block
You’re bored with what you’re writing or you’ve just chosen the wrong structure, the wring medium…something is off with your approach to expressing this particular story and you just can’t seem to get going.
3. The Audience Block
You’re worries the world isn’t ready for you. Whatever you’re writing is too complex, too disgusting. I call this “fearing They”. Whoever “they” is, they won’t get you and so what is the point. You write for an hour maybe but you are constantly giving up for months on end.
These three blocks are all the product of one basic problem: You think too highly of your brain.
I want you to consider yourself stupid.
I’m actually very sure you’re intelligent because generally speaking intelligence relies on curiosity and no one writes anything without being hyper actively curious.
I know how smart you are but in order for you to make the most of your curiosity, in order to write well, you need to surrender your intelligence and write like an idiot.
Idiots enjoy themselves. Idiots say Fuck You to obstacles. They don’t stop and think. Why would they do that? They don’t have the depth to care about consequence. In fact, they behave hazardously.
Write hazardously for best results.
Let me tell you about my cold showers.
For the past ten days I have been taking freezing cold showers.
My work is currently restrained by inflammation in my eyes which, I have been told, may be a symptom of chronic stress.
I work hard to calm down. It’s very stressful.
I learned about cold water exposure from a trashy Netflix series featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, in all her new age glory, interviewing staff members from her website, Goop, a women’s health webzine and e-commerce site that explores the ins and outs of bullshit you can do to trick yourself into believing you’re healthier.
Paltrow’s staff tests the health crazes that she’s too conservative to bother trying. Hallucinogenic therapy, vaginal relief workshops and cold water exposure, it all seems…Doable but strange.
The cold showers come recommended by Wim Hof (AKA “The Iceman”. Dutch, tall and long grey wisdom locks he offers Paltrow a hug as he enters Netflix and simultaneously my heart.
The Iceman speaks of breathing.
His research has proven that the autonomic nervous system can be calmed by breathing. To train ourselves, we can immerse ourselves in stressful circumstances, such as cold water. The shock of cold water is then combated with breathing exercises and eventually we can teach ourselves to breathe our way through fear and discomfort, calming the system and preventing stress.
Wim Hof never gets sick. He controls his stress levels and therefore his immune system.
As Netflix flashes footage of him being injected with E. Coli, I strip naked.
I jump in the shower.
The water is set to as cold as possible. I breathe deeply in a made up way because I didn’t watch the part of the documentary that goes over the Wim Hof Breathing Method. No, I did not watch the Ice Man breathe and so I have to make up my own method of breathing and I don’t think I do a very good job because I walk into the ice cold water and feel instant frozen stabbing shock.
I step out.
And back in, stabbing shock.
And then out. And back in and out and in until I feel like I have controlled something even though I haven’t. With the water off and the shower door still closed, I stand in the cold because I decide that counts too.
Once I warm up a little, I return to my couch and watch the rest of the documentary. Young people lying on the floor of a courageous snow-engorged cabin, quilted blankets and pillows supporting their comfort, breathing rapidly, training for the moment when they will jump into ice water.
Their journey with Hof takes them there: A frozen lake or maybe the ocean but I swear I saw icebergs.
The Goop team warms up, dancing and breathing on the dock. In front of a blissful backdrop, they move their hands through the frozen atmosphere, pushing the air with their hands in a specific ritual taught to them by The Ice Man. One by one they approach the water.
The IceMan instructs their breathing: BREATHE IN , JUMP, BREATHE OUT. They jump, breathe, swim and dance on the snowy shore in nothing but lycra.
I return to the bathroom.
The cold water runs.
I breathe in.
I enter the water.
I breathe out and keep breathing, stabbing drops of ice meeting my skin but I stay under the water because I am an idiot, I just stand there and breathe as if I just don’t know what else’s to do. I start dancing to keep warm, imitating the babes on TV and in a minute I am having a pretty good time, naked alone and freezing cold as if I just have no idea that I can make the water warmer, stop it or leave.
Actually, the options don’t matter because I am focused on one task: remain underwater.
I dry off and laugh at what secret bliss I make.
And then, I don’t really know why but I do it again that night.
And again in the morning.
Again at the gym.
And three times a day every day since then. I am now able to stand in the cold for 90 seconds before I anticipate some sort of numbing precursor to the loss of a limb or something complete imaginary and made up by my intelligence at which point I move around and sometimes scream, succeeding at the endurance of dumb pain.
I want you to think of your writing blocks and anxieties as dumb pain.
It is your choice to write and endure that pain and believe me, if you want to find the ironies and lessons you seek, you have to idiotically remain tortured.
Do as I do with my showers: set a timer, set a focus, set your intelligence aside.
I have trained myself to enjoy 90 seconds of stupidity and it’s made the world a hilarious joke.
Each time I turn the cold water off I feel WOOOOOOOO, I step out of the shower and who cares about anything. Air?! You’re a joke, Air. People?! They’re clearly just people! What an amazing joke it all happens to be.
Right after I stop the water, I am blinded by stupidity.
I walked to my locker completely naked today (not a stupid thing to do but I am usually too embarrassed to do it) and when I got there a fully dressed woman was in my way so I said COMING THROUGH like a drunk old lady. But I’m not drunk and I’m not (really) an old lady. I’m just a cold shower conquering idiot.
So now let’s get back to your writing.
Get ready to write like an idiot.
Grab something to write on right now and don’t worry about choosing a project to work on because I promise that whatever you’re working on will come up in everything you do whether you like it or not.
Put your notebook or whatever it is on a table. Now, if you’re able to stand on the table, do that or maybe you crawl under the table or maybe you’re in a cafe and you need to ask someone who is nowhere near you “excuse me is this notebook in your way?” do something stupid.
Decide against the concept of hazard.
Forgive yourself for whatever it is you are afraid will happen.
Wherever you are, yell, “I LOVE YOU”, start your timer and write three pages of whatever comes to mind. There is no such thing as stuck. If you sense a thought block, reject it by yelling or physically doing something stupid. Go back to writing. Commit to your focus.
Try it tomorrow but yell something else.
Write outside on the bench in the freezing cold like an idiot. Hug a tree like a moron. Help yourself feel the delight of diligent disaster and be the dummy you envy.
You’re not blocked. You’re just thinking.