I’ve known Suzanne Andrew for more than a decade. I know her to be a prolific journalist who has always impressed me with her productivity and high standards. When I asked her to write a piece for my site this summer, it was a pleasure and a surprise to learn about the stall she felt in her fiction — and how she had to learn how to treat herself with kindness in order to finish her novel.
Writing from a state of calm
by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew
I’ve never suffered from writer’s block per se, because I’ve never experienced a shortage of ideas, but when I tried to begin my second novel, the process kept getting stuck. I’d get to page 80, feel frantic and start from the beginning again. The manuscript needed to be in a different tense, and a different point of view. I wrote in first person, second person, third and nothing felt comfortable or good enough. I couldn’t seem to get into the groove of the story I wanted to tell.
Then at the end of last year, a perfect culmination of life events, including a parent in ill health, led me back home to the province where I grew up. I sold my place in downtown Toronto, packed up my books, and moved 4,000 kilometres, landing in Vancouver.
Instead of a view of a nondescript courtyard and the giant condo tower across the way, I began waking up to the coastal mountains and two tall pine trees, an expanse of moody sky and fresh air with a hint of sea salt in it. I took time off, went for walks, slept a great deal, watched movies and read voraciously. In time I realized my nervous system was calming down.
In my newly relaxed state, I was able to release my grip on what had been holding me back: a fretful clutch of expectations, competition and other pressures of my own invention. In other words, I had created so many stories about the story I was trying to write, I’d made it impossible to hear and tell the actual story.
Free of all that I began to write. All the initial problems with the manuscript were solved in this new state of calm. I didn’t feel like I was fighting it anymore. I embraced it, and became so engaged in the story that emerged, I flew past page eighty and am nearly done the draft.
This is not to say that moving is the solution to getting your writing unstuck! It’s about finding a way, no matter where you are, to tune into your inner world and hear the story. I was able to write my first novel in the noise and energy of the city, and needed something different for this new project.
That something was kindness. The disruption in my life was an invitation to approach writing in a new way that’s gentler and more caring than the push-force of my past writing life. My writing is better, and I’m more prolific for it. The story is flowing again, and that’s the loveliest gift.
Here are some kindnesses I’ve started incorporating into my writing practice every day:
Warmth: To counteract the physical discomforts of writing I microwave a beanbag at the end of the day and place it on my shoulders, neck and wrists. Comforting your body helps make a daily writing practice sustainable.
Beauty: Writing is nourished by inspiration from nature, whether it’s a walk through the trees or simply appreciating the presence of a flower, houseplant or cool breeze.
Nourishment: My writing practice is fed by inspiring music and the company of supportive friends. Find elements you can bring into your practice that feel like fuel.
Listening: My writing suffered when I focused on all the pressures I perceived around writing and thrived when I was able to simply tune-in to the story itself.
Honouring: Some days I move my word count forward by leaps, and other days I re-write what I wrote the day before. When I honour my writing practice for what it is, instead of judging, it thrives.
Suzanne Andrew is the author of the novel Circle of Stones (Dundurn Press, 2015). Her short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in The Walrus, Joyland, Quill & Quire, NOW magazine, Canadian Art, Canada’s Walk of Fame Commemorative Magazine and elsewhere. She’s a contributing editor for Taddle Creek and has written for and produced award-winning digital TV and film co-productions and narrative games.
Photo (top): Henning Borgersen on Unsplash