August 26, 2015

Dammed but Still Writing by Marnie Pohlmann

Whoever called a writer’s inability to fill the blank paper a “writer’s block” could not have been a true writer. We all know how our teeth clench, sweat pours, brows furrow, and fingers cramp when we stare at empty white paper but cannot seem to form letters to make words that blend into sentences and form a coherent thought. We panic, pace, fret, and fume. That is no small, simple block; it is an enormous dam stopping the flow of creativity!


I live in the Peace Region, where BC Hydro is beginning to build another dam. There are many protesters against such construction (some say destruction), and there are many proponents who look forward to positive economic impact. The conflict reminds me there are also both good and bad aspects to a writer’s dam. On the one hand, the dam controls the flow of ideas, so at times our stream of words seems dried up, while at other times words gush forth. 

Of course, inspiration may spray when we have the least time to enjoy it, and drought often happens when a deadline looms. However, creativity has not actually dried up. The ideas are not lost; they are stored in a reservoir above the dam. We can fret downstream waiting for the dam to open, or we can climb around the bank to play in the pool above. Or, we can chip away at the blockage to help a little rivulet pour through the dike by using the following tools.

The Reservoir above Williston Lake Dam near Hudson Hope, BC
Blank paper that causes panic might also provide comfort. Sometimes just touching new stationery stirs our inner Shakespeare, so wander the aisles of a stationery store, caressing notebooks and inhaling the scent of new pens. (If I am the only one who does this, please ignore that sentence and do not, I repeat, do not call the people with the white self-hugging jacket!)

Hardware stores also provide encouragement. They let us take home paint chips - free - to supply a river of inspiration! Not only are they wonderful colours, but there are names to those colours (How do I get that job?) Sometimes there are even emotions affiliated with each shade. Mix and match features from a couple cards to start writing in unusual directions. (The wistful ginger moon...)

Leave the computer keyboard and return to the basics of pen on paper. The physical act of forming cursive letters moves us into a slow growing creative space. As the wall begins to shake, mud and flotsam may begin to flow along with the ink, but it is a start.

Try a silent protest at the dam. Go to that white paper and vandalize the clean lines with simple graffiti. Yes, write the alphabet at the top of the page! The letters may lead toward poetry, or alliteration.

The common exercise of “free writing” without lifting pen from paper for five minutes seems to work for many writers, who use it to clear away the debris of the day. Content does not matter; the point is to activate the “brain memory” of writing; to unblock the sludge preventing the flow of clear creativity. Sometimes a gem is found in the thick mud. The leak may be small, but have faith in forward movement.

Or begin with just one word. Write synonyms, antonyms, descriptors, actions, and ideas from that word to create a spider web of interconnected thoughts. Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico calls this “clustering.” One grouping of words may inspire a direction, or show a path around your writer’s dam to where the ideas pool. There you can splash around a bit, playing in the words.

When deciding on even one word is too much, collect a bag of odds and ends to choose from as a starter. A key, penny, bookmark, toothbrush, or any little everyday household item can lead to a memory, a short story, or a meditation from Scripture. 

Other times, the tactile feel of letters can bring us to our (creative) senses. Pull out the dice from Scattegories© or letters from Scrabble© to feel a word, though occasionally we might still stumble over the blank.

Writers can play despite standing at the dam. Eventually we will return to the computer to type our thoughts for later editing. Much like water flowing over the dam generates energy used to light our homes, these exercises may help flood us with new energy that breaks through any word-logjam.

God told Joshua, "I have called you to this. Do not fear. Be Courageous. Tread softly for a while, then make a loud fuss, and the wall will come down." (Joshua 6 - Pohlmann Paraphrase)

16 comments:

  1. Refreshing new ideas for writers block! I will be looking at my visit to Home Depot with fresh eyes. Thank you.

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  2. Your dam analogy is one I've never considered before, but it's perfect. . A dam can be controlled by man. A blockage needs surgical removal. I like the dam better. I'm going to keep this picture in my mind. Thx Marnie!

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    1. Yes, Bobbi, we often build the dam ourselves, but there is comfort in knowing creativity has not dried up but is just in storage. Once again, God's timing makes all the difference.

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  3. I loved your metaphor of the dam--it resonates with me.

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  4. No you are NOT the only one who wanders stationery stores, caressing notebooks and inhaling the scent of new pens (& pencils). LOVE the positive metaphor of the dam. Thanks Marnie.

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    1. Phew! Glad I'm not alone, Joy! I like autumn for the fresh air and colours but I LOVE autumn for the school supplies in stores ;)

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  5. You're not alone in loving the smell and feel of new journals and paper, Marnie! They'll need to bring two of those straight-jackets! Of course, being some the same region I know full well the turmoil the new dam is causing... Some great ideas

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    1. So glad I'll know a few people in the padded room ;)

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  6. Loved this post Marnie! Great analogy.
    I especially liked this line: "Much like water flowing over the dam generates energy used to light our homes, these exercises may help flood us with new energy that breaks through any word-logjam." Thanks for theses excellent suggestions!

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  7. Great post, Marnie. I thought it was interesting how you started out describing writer's block with words like...fret, pace, fume and panic and then you lead in with where you live: the "Peace" Region. I sort of chuckled before moving on. I love how you encouraged us to try cursive writing and free writing. I couldn't agree with you more. Keep on caressing the paper!!

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    1. Haha! Yes, living in the Peace does not automatically mean living in peace. Thankfully, we know the peace that passes understanding because we know Christ Jesus, who IS Peace!

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  8. So many great ideas and encouraging words. Thanks Marnie.

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  9. What a great post... and splendid ideas for handling writer's block.

    You mention trying a silent protest at the dam by going to that white paper and vandalizing the clean lines with simple graffiti. Yes, that works. Your suggestion reminded me of Sir Winston Churchill, when he encouraged people fearfully staring at a blank canvas to just brush a blob of paint on it, anywhere, any colour... there, now you can move forward. (my very loose paraphrase).

    You've given a great set of ideas. Thanks so much!

    Brenda

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  10. I wonder if any other writer has thought of writing in comparison to a dam. What a clever and apt analogy! I also enjoyed the way you tied in God's words to Joshua. With your advice, our walls on the writer's block should all come tumbling down.

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  11. Marnie,
    It is so wonderful to meet you. I love this essay. Fabulous ideas - love the ginger moon. With this type of encouragement those dams will be freed with ease.
    Blessings,
    Janis

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