There are oodles of lists of 10 ways to fight writer’s block out there, such as here, “snazzy” ones here, or here, and really many many others, mostly repetitive, mostly not entirely helpful. That’s not to say it’s not useful advice of course, but, the reason we get blocked in the first place involves some hard to overcome and scary stuff inside. If it weren’t, well, we probably wouldn’t be so blocked in the first place, right?
I don’t want to talk about writer’s block in specific, but rather a universal aspect of it, that staggering inability to get up and do something, that something especially important to us, so important we must get it right, we have to. I’ll begin with a seemingly entirely unrelated fear that has crept into my climbing.
A little over a year ago, I went trad climbing with a new partner. Without going into specifics, understand that “trad” is the most unreliable protection kind, “lead” climbing involves the biggest falls, and a new partner is one that hasn’t earned my trust and vice versa. It was late autumn and the rock was often wet and sandy. Before this, my only other large lead fall was when I reached for a sandy ledge and lost my grip of it. Luckily, that first fall was entirely overhanging so there was nothing to hit in the fall.
I’d already been forced into climbing fairly far above my last protection, unable to find place for another. Finally, I found a shallow crack that might take something. But my feet were tenuous and my hand hold was slick. I tried and failed to wedge something in. My arms were getting tired and failing, my grip was slipping, and then I fell.
I was tipped over backward and landed some ten meters lower, swinging flat backed and head banging against the rock wall. My glasses flew and the world became an out of focus wobbly blur.
I was ok. I finished climbing that day, and a week later shared a lead with two good friends up a well known climb on Cannon in NH. My back needed physio in the new year, but really, no harm done. Except that with every climb staring me down I’ve backed up a step further, afraid. And with each climb that I handed off the lead, the next stared down even harder. Until now I avoid climbing altogether, out of practice, because how can I explain that I need to start back at the beginning?
This shame/fear baggage hangs after all kinds of failures and rejections. That failed relationship that holds us back from honestly trying in another? That draft of the story that was nothing like we imagined, a betrayal to ourselves?
What part of this is debilitating?
Backstory: I’m least afraid in the face of real danger. The climbs that I’ve been talking about involve small falls caught by a sproiging rope with ample foresight against landing on protruding ledges that might actually hurt. Chance of death? ~0%. By real danger I mean, on the other hand, crossing a ledge over (effectively) the abyss with howling winds and brain squeezing cold, untethered. Each step is my sole focus, my breath is even and controlled, and I’ll give whatever solid confidence my partner needs in the moment1.
Ultimately, if it were purely fear, well, we could handle it in that ‘there’s no other choice’ focussed kind of way. But there’s all that image-worrying-goal-oriented ego tied into the mix. What would get me climbing? Honestly, letting myself go back to the beginning, #2, and remembering the real reason I love to climb (which has nothing to do with grade levels, showing off, and competing, mostly), #10. Just letting go of ego. What will keep me writing? Focus in on that writing, inevitable. there can be no other way fear of it and screw worrying about results just yet. There’s loads of time to edit afterward.
1. I’m no Alex Honnold, although he certainly talks about this egoless focus when he free solos.