Conquering writer’s block
I’m ripping out my hair, making unnecessary trips to the drinking fountain, sorting through the junk e-mails that don’t usually see the light of my desktop. I’m writing a story about writer’s block and I can’t get a word down on the page, at least not the perfect word. At times, the words flow without effort as if the story I’m telling has already been written and I just reach up into the sky and grab from a bubble filled with beautiful prose. At others, I feel as though no words in my vocabulary would do justice to my vision, and a case of convenient attention deficit disorder grabs hold of me. Today I am determined to do something about it. I pick up the phone and call Nancy Shanteau. I hear she has a talent for extracting novels from even the most stubborn of left brains.”Well, what have you tried?” she asks.Truth is, not much.”Stand up,” she instructs. “Now bend your right arm. Raise it up in front of your nose like you’re about to punch. At the same time raise your left leg behind you. Breath out loud. Repeat this 10 times and then repeat it with the other arm.”Wearing my headset, I stand up in front of my computer as she talks me through the exercise. I feel a little silly and hope my co-workers are not paying attention.
“How do you feel?” she asks when I am done.”My shoulders feel more relaxed. The tightness in my chest is looser,” I tell her.”What else?””I’m breathing,” I say.”Exactly,” she says, smiling into the phone. “When I sit down with my clients I ask them, ‘Are you ready to write?’ They say ‘yes.’ And I say, ‘Great, stand up.'”Shanteau, a UC Berkeley grad turned somatic writing coach from Nevada City, Calif., makes a living helping people understand and engage their bodies in the process of writing. “Most people think about what’s going on in the brain and they forget what’s going on physically, below the neck,” Shanteau says. “We say in somatic coaching that it’s an untapped resource.”Her advice: Look at what you do well and see if you can make your writing follow that success pattern.”Try lots of different things,” she says. “Try writing in nature or by hand or on the computer. Try writing with and without prompts, in the morning or at night. Move your body before you write. Some people like to draw what they’re going to write. There’s going to be something that works for you, you just have to find it.”
When Shanteau sits down to write, she often waits for the sun to set, makes a bowl of buttered popcorn, fluffs up on the pillows on her bed and plops down with her laptop, coaxing herself into the process. “Be creative and make it fun for yourself,” she tells her clients. “What is it that you love to do and how can you make writing like that?”Dennis Egan had a book stewing in his mind for 15 years about his adventures kayaking a relatively unknown stretch of the Alaskan coastline. When Shanteau, a student in his yoga class, offered to help, he was able to get past the creative block in his brain that wouldn’t allow him to write. “She got me to write stream of conscious and eliminate the critical mind,” Egan said. “I’d get a couple sentences in and if I didn’t like the first sentence I would, boom, get stuck, and she helped me get past that. She helped me see that even really good writers don’t just write something and it’s done. It gets reworked and molded, sometimes several times before the final product comes out. It took just a couple of sessions, and all of the sudden there was a reservoir of material inside of me. Once there was an avenue, it just kind of poured out. “Prior to meeting Nancy, I looked at writing as purely a struggle,” he added. “Now I can spend hours writing and it doesn’t seem like work it seems like recreation. I actually have to uproot myself from the computer sometimes. I’m blessed that she stumbled into my life, or I never would have seen the book into fruition.”Shanteau strongly believes in finding your voice and letting it shine through as a strength rather than a weakness.”Everyone has something to offer; everyone has their own unique gifts,” she said. “That means not doing it the way everyone else does. My philosophy is not to tell you what’s wrong with it but what’s right with it. What’s alive in it?”Writing is a practice and like any practice, it requires preparation. Shanteau suggests forming an outline prior to writing.
“It’s important that we’re not sitting down to blankness. Once we do that it will often flow very quickly, and I don’t get out of it until I come to a transition and then I need to do more planning.” Make time to write, Shanteau urges. Just because you only have 15 minutes doesn’t mean you can’t write at all; 15 minutes equals 365 pages if you do it every day. That’s good news because 15 minutes is about all I have now that I’ve wasted so much time avoiding the task at hand. After my exercises, I sit down and ponder for a moment. As a yogi, I can appreciate the effects of physical impact on the psyche, it just never occurred to me to do it before sitting down to write. I’m feeling good and in my new-found trance I reach up into the bubble and pull the words onto the page before me. “Everyone has a book in their drawer that they want to write,” Shanteau said. “I love helping people do that.”
Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or firstname.lastname@example.org.