You know the feeling – the adrenaline rush of fear that makes your stomach queasy and your mouth dry; the frenzy of desperately searching through papers, files, folders, books, clutter; the insistence that “It has to be here, I can’t have lost it.”
“It” is the draft that disappeared when your computer crashed, the mind map scribbled on a scrap of paper that has slipped into another dimension, the missing page of notes from a source you can’t easily access again or the idea that seemed so brilliant just yesterday but that you can’t recall now for the life of you.
After the frenzy, your shoulders droop and your lower back collapses. Only the fact that you’re sitting in a chair keeps you from falling into the fetal position. “I can’t believe I lost it! I can’t believe it’s really gone.”
You might alternate between desperate half-belief “It’s got to be here somewhere, maybe it’s …” and angry certainty “It’s gone. F*** it!”
You might try negotiating, “Maybe if I clear out my email folders or my desk drawers, I’ll find it.”
Finally you fall into despair and give up, not only on the draft, idea or pages you lost, but on writing about that topic or in that genre at all. At least for a while.
Stages of Grief and the Resistance that Comes with Them
I’ve seen students and clients move through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and I’ve gone through those stages myself. Writers typically experience a variety of resistance in the first four stages:
- paralysis (“My mind is a complete blank, I just can’t think”)
- postponing (“I’ll write again just as soon as I find it”)
- distractions (“Maybe if I reorganize the silverware drawer, I’ll find it”)
- excessive criticism (“I can’t believe I/she/he/it was so stupid”)
- sabotage (“If I can’t get it back, it’s not worth even trying to write today”)
Acceptance Solves Resistance
Loss is an inevitable part of life. We need to allow ourselves time to move through the stages of grief. But we can’t allow ourselves to get stuck or linger overlong in the stages that precede acceptance.
If we don’t move through all five stages, if we get stuck and allow ourselves to stay stuck, grief creates a sustained writer’s block.
Acceptance starts with “This really happened. It sucks, but it’s happened, so I need to write it again from scratch/recreate the mind map/research the notes again/find a new idea.”
Sometimes acceptance comes from talking about the experience with sympathetic witnesses who still believe in us as writers. Sometimes acceptance comes from sheer stubbornness “Yes, that happened, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let that stop me.”
We need to work to get to acceptance because that’s the only way we can reclaim our passion, energy and ability to write again.
Please share your story. Have you experienced grief-induced writer’s resistance? What did you lose and how did you move through the grief?