Overcoming Writers’ Block

Overcoming Writers’ Block

I’m sure that every single one of us experienced some sort of emotional scarring in high school. I’m a pretty resilient character (if you talk loud enough you can’t hear the criticism), nevertheless I have certainly carried a few more memorable high school experiences with me into the present. Fortunately, one of those experiences is the enjoyment of writing. One of the less enjoyable experiences was learning that I was just no good at visual art.

I have two stories for you and, coincidentally, both of them involve my high school friend Emily (Hi Em if you’re reading!)

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

How about we start with the good news?

In Year 8 or 9 English (I can’t remember which), our class was required to write and illustrate our very own picture book. From memory we were also required to submit an audio book to match (although for all I know that was one of my nerdy efforts to gain extra credit and was not required at all). In any event, I remember that my picture book was called ‘Emily the Alien’s Big Red Ball’. Our friend Em always marched to the beat of her own drum, so the role of a super cute alien fitted her well. I don’t remember much else about it to be honest. The lingering memory is just this positive sort of glow I got from producing a finished product. As I previously mentioned, I would later go on to cement this relationship with writing by producing my own novella. Ahh… happy memories.

Then there was the less-than-happy time I was kicked out of art. I really enjoyed art at school. It was a break from the more intellectual subjects and a place to just express yourself and have fun. Unfortunately I was unable to “have fun” in a visually appealing way, and my Year 11 teacher kindly informed me that I would be better off giving HSC art a miss. Bummer. I believe her exact words were, “If there were a subject dedicated to art theory, I would make you do it, but the practical side is not for you”. A real kick in the nerdy teeth.

All these years later it’s still like a dagger to the heart (mostly because I know she was 100% right). My art skills are like my fashion sense: non-existent. It’s a real shame too because up until that point I liked it so much. I didn’t even take the hint in Year 10 when my work experience at a local graphic design studio ended in a polite suggestion to try something else. I was living in a dream land.

I guess I should bring my story back to Emily…

Not long before my art teacher gave me the crushing news that I was useless at art, I was busily working on a sculpture. It was a papier-mache masterpiece based on the time a tree fell on my family home. It was a delicate juxtaposition (art word!) of ferocity and peace. This tree had smashed a hole in our roof, nearly killed our grandmother, and was just a few hours off potentially injuring a room full of 5-year-old girls who had been there to celebrate my little sister’s birthday. The artwork centred on the irony that the one thing that survived the devastation was the single pink balloon, dangling from the now-crushed letterbox and signifying the 5-year-old fairy party held earlier in the day. The sculpture took me weeks and I was quite proud of the finished product.

Emily, on the other hand, had been doodling in her art book and taking a… less structured approach. This, of course, meant that she left the sculpture to the last minute. On the eve of our deadline, she collected three bundles of twigs of varying sizes from around the playground, tied them up with string, and went home to rustle up a masterpiece.

The following day, Emily returned to school with the sticks still in their original bundles. She boldly submitted these as her final work, alongside a written justification in her art diary.

You don’t need me to tell you that Emily got the top mark in the class while I failed. Failure was not a word in my school vocabulary. I was flabbergasted.

To be fair, Em’s stick bundles looked far more impressive than my painstakingly-crafted balloon sculpture, however it didn’t stop me from feeling the scandal of it all. I clearly carry the scars to this day and am ever-reminded that hard work does not always equate to success. The moral of the story, if you haven’t already twigged, is this:

Stick to what you’re good at.

So, I write.

I write and I draw silly cartoons that make my boyfriend fiancé smile. That’s enough for me these days 🙂

Another artist friend of mine, Dom, had an exhibition around a year ago. I was so impressed that he had stuck with what was his passion to create a whole exhibition of his work. What an achievement! His watercolour, ‘Blocked’ really resonated with me, so I bought it. It hangs proudly in my hallway (and is pictured above). I suppose if you can’t be good at something then it helps the soul to surround yourself with people who are.

The other great thing about surrounding yourself with creative people and their works is that it helps you to be creative yourself – even if in a completely different field. I remember attending Dom’s final art school exhibition at the old Darlinghurst gaol (where the school is). Walking the historic grounds, I could see how in an environment like that you couldn’t help but be inspired.

This, finally, brings me to my point… how I overcome writers’ block.

Many writers will sit in solitude or find a quiet place of reflection to conjure their creative spirit. When you’re on fire and writing up a storm, this can be a great way to stay focused and get the words out. When, however, you are feeling uninspired, flying solo is absolutely the worst possible thing you could do to yourself.

Many artists speak about having a “muse”, a person who inspires them to create amazing things. Shouldn’t writers have a muse too? Shouldn’t they see them, talk to them, or generally enjoy their presence to kickstart the creative process?

If not a muse, then at least an inspirational backdrop. A place of great history, charm, or mystery that taps into their creativity?

My advice for overcoming writers’ block is to escape the solitude. It might be as simple as “thinking out loud” or brainstorming with the person sitting next to you, or it might require you to escape your mundane existence for a few months (holiday in Europe anyone?)

In my particular case, after much soul-searching, I’ve decided to abandon the initial idea for the book I am supposed to write this year. I stumbled upon a new idea while cyber-stalking a friend and honed it by asking Andy for his advice. I’ve signed up for a relevant writing workshop in October and I’ll have my pen and paper ready when I escape to the wilderness for list item number 26. I’m excited about this new book idea. I can’t promise that it will be an original one, and I can’t promise that I will execute it with flair. All I know is that I have finally found the inspiration I need to tick off list item number 24 ‘Write a book’!

Did you leave high school with a few battle wounds? How have they affected your life since?


9 responses »

  1. Many battle wounds on this old noggin! I was told by teachers that I couldn’t write or sing – two of my favourite pass times! Now I do both relatively well 🙂

    Best of luck with the workshop!

  2. I broke you! Academically… 😦
    Shit! -Sorry possum! (I dont remember much of high school, not sure what to chalk that up to….) Funny how sharing a different perspective on events brings back so much associated trauma!

    That bundle of sticks……. *sigh*
    By this time I had cottoned on to the fact that modern art is merely the ability to justify random crap you did by accident/at the last minute/because it felt good/bad/different.

    My comeuppance came later when I was ostracised from said art class after producing a series of works that looked too much like vaginas for a group art critique session….. (Think I just found some more trauma!) Ah, to be a Freud on the wall that day…..

    Damn the (Catholic All Girls High School) system!

    p.s. You were always a better poet/writer/wordsmith than me…

    “The moral of the story, if you haven’t already TWIGGED, is this:
    STICK to what you’re good at.”


    Love ya work….

    : )

    • Haha Em you didn’t break me! Nothing like a little dose of reality to prepare one for adulthood! 🙂 Glad you got my stick joke haha! Almost as good as “what’s brown and sticky? A stick!”

      I don’t know that I remember your other artwork but that sounds like old principal Bernie’s worst nightmare! Too funny!

      • India will write the book FOR you!! -Go there.

        P.s. I can/can I come too. I gots connections there….*wink wink*

      • Hell yeah! I’m so keen. There is just one minor dilemma… $$

        At the moment I’m just entering every comp I can to win a trip to India! haha

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