Today I went to a day-long introduction to Buddhist practice at the local temple. For the most part, it was what one might expect: we beginners talked about why we were there, we were given a brief introduction to Buddhist practice, and then we were instructed in two of the various forms of mediation (sitting and walking). In the afternoon, we had a question and answer session about how Zen Buddhism (or this particular sangha) would approach certain issues that we face in our lives. One of the issues was how our mind throws up defenses against the unknown. Amazingly, this talk turned to writing (and then more generally art).
One of the biggest takeaways from that discussion was (and I am coming to my own conclusions based on what was said) that writer’s block – or any other type of artistic block – stems largely from the fear of failure. For many budding writers, this is something we’ve never done before. I’ve certainly never been this far in the process of writing and editing before. And so our mind is trying to protect us against the unknown we are experiencing. Whenever we venture into something new, there is always the chance of failure (though I am loathe to call anything failure – I much prefer calling missteps learning opportunities. Failure is much too negative) and it is frightening. We probably don’t even realize that that is why we have blocks. But it makes sense – if we’ve got the story all laid out in our minds and we know just what should happen why can’t we write it? Because it is scary. What if we write it and no one likes it? What if, somehow, it gets published but the public readership bashes it (as too often they do)? But we ought to understand that that is a fear we are imposing on ourselves. Someone is bound to dislike what we write, but does it matter? So many of us are writing primarily for ourselves, to tell a story we keep inside of us. The only way to fail is to stop writing – which is exactly what happens when we get writer’s block. Our fear opens and closes the cycle. My recommendation? When you get writer’s block, take a deep breath, and work on something else that is related to your story.
Something that Rev. Rinsen said resonated well with me. He said that art is the gateway to reality, and that it is part of the human condition. He said that we must be open to art, that eventually the act of creating will take over, and we have to give the power over to the art – that art will tell you what it wants to be. I think we writers know this somewhat instinctively – after all we always talk about our characters talking to us or how the story takes directions we didn’t plan for.
I don’t mean to say that writers are instinctively Buddhist – by no means is that the case! All I’m saying is that for me, this connection has been particularly powerful and I share it in hopes that it will be powerful for someone else as well.
Take care, fellow travelers.