It's called Writer's Block, that agonizing period fraught with insecurity when the creative river dries up. Writer's Block: when you need the words to come trotting out like frisky thoroughbreds, but they remain stubbornly mulish, refusing to leave the barn. (A barn you can't enter, by the way, not even to get a glimpse of them in their stalls, effectively stalling your work.)
I'm going to go out on a limb here and venture a guess that we've all had this experience. We're told it's not fun. It's distressing. Oh my, how good would it be if the lines just paraded out proudly as they should, in a constant cavalcade, all dressed up and looking spiffy.
It does happen. I have several 10-minute pieces and a few 2-minute monologues that just flooshed out of the vomitorium smack onto the page. Such a glorious rush. However, my pride rests on my glacially expanding canon of full-lengths (that subject, the merits of short plays vs longer ones, in another blog, farther upstream. Probably followed by “The Supreme Annoyance of 'Multiple Metaphor Pileup' in Essay Writing”).
Anyway, I digress. The creative standstill does happen. Perhaps more often than we'd like. But I take serious issue with the moniker “Writer's Block.” It’s negative. It plants the idea in every writer’s head that Something Is Wrong!—something bad that screams out to be fixed.
The term “Writer's Block” is, as Gandhi used to say, B.S. This lull in our usual flow of typing is not something to worry about. Maybe we're just tired. Maybe we had too much to eat last night. Maybe too much on our minds.
Relax, it's okay.
In my normal writing process there are periods where I sit and think about my current scribbling, sometimes for hours or days at a time. Weeks, even. It's part of the way I write. My mind goes off into the ether and I'm beyond reach. I don’t even experience concrete thoughts or specific ideas. I feel like a whale shark, mouth agape, gently trolling for krill. I’m lucky to have friends and family who recognize the thousand-yard stare and take turns feeding and dressing me. I'm betting there are a few of you out there who experience similar episodes.
I accept this as a natural part of creativity. I expect it. I enjoy it. I consider it work, as equal a part of the writing process as the frenetic mistyping that thunders out when The Big Reveal finally hits. It's like great sex: a slow, thoughtful beginning, a journey of sensual exploration and discovery that gradually builds up to a fevered climax of gushing words. And this happens several times in every full-length creation.
Let’s call this languid synaptic search Mulling. Mulling is an activity where the imagination goes in search of those magic moments that not just advance the text, but glorify it. Mulls, like whale sharks, troll for those creative krill, Epiphanies. In that massive sea of ether, each Mull needs to find its appropriate Epiphany. Because there is only one Epiphany for each of the writer’s different Mulls.
There will be false alarms along the way, connections that look exciting, promising, and juicy, yet turn out to be disappointing when the resulting sploosh of typing at last breathily subsides and the Epiphany looks around at your apartment and talks about redecorating. Alas, we must change our phone number once again and begin searching anew.
But I never worry. Ever. Because in my experience, nearly every questing Mull has found its mate. It's a zen-like journey—and it's always been worth it. I sit back, relax, and go Mulling merrily along, roaming the ether for that special Epiphany. It's a lovely landscape, and I always find equal amounts of joy in the peregrination and in the anticipation of consummation.
And frequently I find things I never imagined. Because Mullination by nature largely involves aimless wandering, it sometimes runs into ideas, phrases and words that take me to areas I hadn't previously considered. Each one expands my landscape of possibility, and almost always the work in question benefits tremendously.
I say screw The Block. Deny the disquietude, forswear the fantods, and Get Your Mull On. Big time.