Your sink is broken. You called the plumbing company, and they sent a plumber over to your house to fix it. The plumber arrives, looks around, scratches his head, and says, “Nah. Not in the mood, boss. I have a plumber’s block.”
Sounds ridiculous, right?
But that’s exactly what’s happening every time a writer says they have a writing block.
The thing is, there was no such concept as the ‘writing block’ before the Renaissance. It’s a pretty recent invention. And a convenient one, too! Hemingway and Fitzgerald used the ‘writing block’ excuse to spend most of their days drinking and partying and traveling and, well, doing everything except work.
Have you ever heard of Socrates having a ‘writer’s block’? Me neither. Before the Renaissance things were easier. If you were a writer, you would come home, sit down, and write.
Back then, writers didn’t think of themselves as geniuses. The writing profession wasn’t glorified so much. There was no nobility and mystery about the writing profession.
In fact, most writers (think Kafka, Dickens) had full-time jobs for the majority of their lives in addition to writing. (Dickens produced about 40 novels while working until the end of his life.)
But there is something else.
Your inner genius
When Socrates was alive, the word “genius” (Roman) or “daimon” (Greek) meant something different than what you are used to. Today we call people geniuses, as in, “You are a genius!” – but before the Renaissance (when people focused on the person as the center of the Universe) – the “genius” was not a part of you. It was a creature living beside you. And it tells you what to do and what to write.
Think of it as Muse.
In ancient Rome and Greece, the process of creativity had two team members: you – the creator, and the “genius” or the “daimon.” According to Socrates, this little dude (think: Dobby the house-elf) told him what to write in his philosophical texts.
And everybody knew that if your writing was good, you were not the only one to give the full credit to. Your genius was damn good.
And if your work sucked, well, your inner house-elf was pretty lame.
The presence of some other entity – besides you, the creator – made writing (or any other creative process) easier. There was a certain distance between you and your work.
Here’s a great TED talk from 2005 by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) who talks about her daimon.
The concept of “daimon” existed before the Renaissance. There were no writing blocks back then. The block appeared when the “daimon” disappeared, and the creator was put in charge of doing the work.
No wonder writers started to drink – so much pressure and expectations! Now, if your work sucked, it was you – and only you – to blame.
The good news is, we don’t have to buy into this crap. We can learn from Elizabeth Gilbert and creatives like Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield – and create a distance between ourselves and our work.
Be like Socrates.
If writing isn’t going, it’s not you. It’s the “daimon.”
Maybe the Muse isn’t favoring us today. Maybe it’s asleep or something.
The important thing is that we show up for our part of the job. And then let the work be what it’ll be.
The Stoics (branch of ancient philosophy, basis of most modern self-help) had a similar approach to life. They internalized their goals.
When you internalize your goals, you forget about the result. Followers, money, readers, fame – all of that is external. You don’t control any of that. By obsessing over the numbers, you just end up miserable and stressed out.
What you can do instead, is focus on the only thing you can control: your effort. Your part of the job.
Nobody Has a Writer’s Block
Seth Godin says that nobody has a ‘writer’s block’. We all have ‘writing perfectly block’. Which is to say, if you can’t write perfectly – write poorly. The goal is to write something. Write poorly, write a lot, and gradually, you’ll become better.
With time, as your skill improves, you’ll forget about the block – and just create.
The Daimon Can Kill You
But there’s more.
What Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t say in her talk, is that your daimon isn’t just this benevolent house-elf that whispers words to write. No. It can also kill you. If you ignore it.
Steven Pressfield on this:
It took me nineteen years to earn my first dollar as a pure creative writer and twenty-eight years to get my first novel published.
I had jobs in advertising. I had work in other fields. I always quit to write. Bosses, with the best of intentions, would call me into their offices and urge me to listen to reason: stay here, you’ve got a future with us, don’t throw your life away on a dream that’s never going to come true.
Every time I would agonize. Am I crazy? How can I go off again to write another novel that nobody will want to read and that no publishing house will want to publish?
But I always left the job. I always went off to write.
That’s the daimon.
Think of an acorn, containing the full potential and strength of a grown oak tree. That’s the daimon. That’s the force you have inside of you. It pulls you in a certain direction.
You can neglect it of course, and end up being miserable. But the Greeks believed that the meaning of your life is contained in the daimon.
What do you do?
Put Your Ass Where the Heart Wants To Be
If you want to blog, blog.
If you want to write a novel, start one right now.
If your daimon calls you to build companies, why aren’t you still fundraising?
Do what the daimon wants. Let your acorn grow into an oak. Nourish it. Give it room to breathe.
You can fight it, of course, but it’s stronger.
You create art (and blogging is art too) not to express yourself, but to discover yourself. To find out who you are. And you are – what you write.
So write and find out. Blog and find out. Build a business and find out.
Go create something meaningful.
How to Undertake the Artist’s Journey – Steven Pressfield on Tim Ferriss Blog
The Artist’s Journey by Steven Pressfield
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