Saturday, October 13, 2012

Avoidance, Writer’s Block, Life…

Yes, I’m finally writing again… and for this first post, I had initially set out to write about writer’s block and internal darkness - in fact, I have about 1200 words floating around somewhere in Word talking about the connection between the two. But instead, I discovered that what I really wanted to say was something about how my round with writer’s block felt like an example of something that happens to all of us in varying degrees and forms. It wasn’t something unique just for writers…

These past few months, I have been struggling to write creatively... I found myself doing all sorts of others things instead, like veg’ing out in front of the TV because there was a NCIS marathon… or spending mindless hours in front of the computer searching for who knows what… And of course when all else failed, there was always work related stuff to do when I seemed to have any down time to write. Point is and quite simply, I was avoiding writing (not a very promising habit for an aspiring writer).

For me, avoidance behavior served as a twisted form of writer’s block. I was “blocked” not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because of something else. After all, this was not the first time that I’ve experienced this phenomenon… I’ve seen this behavior before, manifested in a variety of forms, in different contexts and during all parts of my life. What I discovered was that “avoidance” is a coping mechanism that I use when something seems unpleasant or scary. On the surface, writing is neither unpleasant nor scary for me… but on reflection, writing represents a change… and that’s what’s scary.

Change is oftentimes greeted with a mixed sense of excitement and caution. We are generally hesitant or resistant to change because its qualities are unknown to us. We don’t know what will happen to us as a result of changes… and we don’t know if moving forward with a particular plan will help us or hurt us. Change frequently requires us to take risks while our primal instincts remind us to protect ourselves from harm– physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Thus, with creative writing – this act represented a huge change for me – it was asking me to move forward in an identity shift. No small task for one so old, lol. It now meant that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to make a commitment to being one - not just a dabbler anymore. It meant that I would need to be okay with letting others see my vulnerability – to see my spirit exposed, where for a lifetime it has been silenced and sheltered. It meant that I would need to be willing to share my thoughts and ideas at the risk of feeling the sting of criticisms. And it meant embracing this other dimension to myself that has been but a shadow lurking in my being, sequestered away until now,… and now, I would need to own it. Engaging in this change meant that I would be taking risks and putting my work out there – putting me out there.

And while I may have arrived at some resolution about my writer’s block, it made me wonder: How is this type of avoidance any different from how we use avoidance in our every day lives?

As I referenced earlier, avoidance is a familiar tune to me. It has been both a useful tool and unhealthy way of functioning as I go through life. And we all have examples with which to draw from where we could identify avoidance as part of the scenario. You know, it’s that project you waited until the very last minute to get to… or the conversation you haven’t had yet with your partner because you’re both too busy… or it’s the phone call you waited until 5:05pm to respond to and so forth.

By any other name, avoidance is seen or known as “procrastination” or “delay” or “too busy” to name just a few. These may be more palatable sounding words because they don’t infer a shirking of one’s responsibility or a character flaw, but they are in fact synonymous with avoidance.  The end result is the same: we’ve managed to avoid doing something for a particular time frame.

And while sometimes it’s not a big deal to avoid doing something, there are certainly occasions or contexts where avoidance does not serve our self-interests. Rather than the change being what’s hurtful to us, our own failure to see the role of avoidance in our own lives is what hurts us more.  

So just what was it that I wanted to say about avoidance behavior, writer’s block and life? The truth is that avoidance can take many forms; it’s not just a barrier to writing…it can be a roadblock to living.