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Writer's Block - Susan-Alia Terry

Writer’s Block

Jun 7, 2023 | Writing

—or how the Eight of Swords can show you the way out.

8 of swords tarot card: a tied and blind-folded woman partially encircled by swords planted into the ground.

Went to the tarot for a newsletter suggestion. It’s becoming a theme. To my non-surprise, another of my usual cards popped up. It’s funny, if you pull cards on a regular basis, you’ll find your regulars. You get chummy with them. They become the theme of whatever season you happen to be in. So I wasn’t all that surprised to see the Eight of Swords.

Eight of Swords: feeling trapped with no way out, not realizing that it’s a cage of your own making. To get out, all you have to do is look beyond what you’re expecting.

That feeling of being trapped with no way out. I could relate that to a lot of things, but since I’m a writer, I’m gonna go with “writer’s block.” Fun times.

The term itself is a heavy one. WRITER’S BLOCK. You writer, are BLOCKED. No passing GO. No collecting $200. Heaviest of sighs. Might as well go do something else. Diablo 4 dropped. Just saying.

Obvious reason to procrastinate aside, it’s a real thing. A real, paralyzing, thing.

For the record, I don’t like to use the term “writer’s block.” Those two little words carry so much baggage that the term itself has become a cliche. For me it brings to mind a grizzled writer sitting with their typewriter and a half-empty bottle of Jack, an ashtray overflowing with butts, and a trashcan filled to the brim with crumpled papers. “All work and no play makes Jack—” you get the idea.

Wouldn’t it be fun if the Writer’s Block was a block in every city where writers go to just be with each other? We schmooze, hang out, have coffee, talk about writerly things. Every once in a while a debate about process happens. The fans of Hemingway square off against the fans of Fitzgerald for a rousing game of pickle—or rummy. Maybe rummy, writers aren’t known for their athletic prowess. Such a block would be fun to hang out in—to go to commiserate on the heartache of Chapter 3, or to console those put upon by the efforts and setbacks of getting to The End.

But it’s not. It’s the deserted island after a shipwreck. A place you land and possibly never leave.

I didn’t start writing until my 40s. Why? I didn’t have stories. I wasn’t “talented”. Or so I told myself. For one thing, I looked at the landscape of writers and didn’t see myself. I’m not talking about race, or gender, but mindset.

I’m a weird duck. It’s not something I can adequately explain. I just never quite—fit. For example, if something is massively popular, there is a very good chance that I won’t like it. Not to be contrary—although I can be contrary—but because I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Thor: Ragnarok is a good example. I felt Thor had been mis-served by that movie. He’d been turned into a himbo. The Planet Hulk part was awful, and I wished they’d made Hela the main villain. Everyone seemed to love that film, yet I was disappointed.

It wasn’t until I discovered fan fiction in the early aughts that I discovered other weirdos like me. Weirdos who took lefts when “common sense” said to go right. People who played in sandboxes created by others and took stories with beloved characters in surprising directions. (Folks who wrapped up Harry Potter in ways far more interesting than canon. Do not get me started.)

They taught me more than anyone to not only embrace my weird, but to lean into it. To find my stories. To find my voice.

I’m not saying it was easy, but I am saying it was educational. The process of learning means having the courage to start—and continue when things are crappy. It means playing in the middle when the beginning is out of reach. Or writing the end first to have something to work toward. It means getting your hands dirty and your heart bruised. And sometimes it means just walking away for the time being.

Writer’s block asks for a new perspective, a new vantage point. That new idea, or story is right around the corner just waiting to be found.

Writer’s block can also be telling us that maybe we’re in a place where perceiving something new just isn’t possible. Sometimes we’re just in a pissy mood, for one thing. Add in social media, the news, and headlines—creating our thing can seem trite in comparison. Sometimes I think it’s designed that way. An unhappy populace is a reactionary populace—not a creatively thriving one.

Unplug. I find walking helpful. Just to get outside and breathe deep in the sunshine.

Reading helps too—not for comparison, or to feel inadequate—but to spark imagination!

I spent last summer reading nothing but romances—hadn’t read a romance book since high school. But that sparked within me a desire, and so the current novel I’m working on is a romance about Ambrose De la Croix, my super sexy demon. Never would have considered writing a romance if I didn’t expand what I perceived as possible.

Don’t let what you perceive as writer’s block keep you from your joy. Don’t let it fool you into thinking you have nothing to say. It can so easily play on fears of not being good enough, acceptable enough, educated enough, insert-your-pain-here enough. And then it becomes Your Story that you spend x-years regurgitating. It’s a lie.

Should writer’s block worm its way into your head, know its presence is asking you to be brave and to take a step into the unknown. Reclaim your power. Reclaim your joy! See it as nothing more than a notice from your psyche telling you to explore beyond your known boundaries. Take a chance, my friend, what you find might surprise you.

Let me know how it goes.

Until next time!

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