What Writer’s Block Really Is and How to Get Past It

by Marc Graham

I’ve studied a number of different philosophical and esoteric systems over the years,
including Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and Druidry.

After my 23-and-Me revealed that I’m more Norse than Celtic, I turned my attention to the Old Norse Runes.

During a roughly six-month period of meditating on the Runes, one each week, I came upon the idea of adapting the Runes–normally used for divination and personal decision-making–in the storytelling process.

The ideas sprang forth almost fully formed, and have been refined into the shape presented in the book. Likely with more to come.

What Writer’s Block Actually Is

Many authors handily dismiss writer’s block, offering the nose-to-grindstone assertion that no one ever complains of having plumber’s block.

While I get the comparison, I think this viewpoint exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of creativity. In fairness, the same can be said of those would-be writers who allow themselves to be blocked by the angst and whining of Resistance.

Writer’s block is most simply the author’s inability to decide what happens next in the story.

It may be due to a lack of focus. It may be due to a lack of familiarity with the root of the story. It could be a lack of commitment, squirrel chasing, corner painting, or any number of other challenges.

At its root, writer’s block is a separation between the storyteller and source of the story.

Creativity, from the perspective of neuroscience, taps into multiple levels of human conscious. We spend the vast majority of our time in the ordinary consciousness of the Intellect, and when we feel a challenge in storytelling, we often default to this resource.

But story actually arises in the Unconscious, and is delivered to the Intellect (the level of consciousness that manages structure and language) by the Subconsious.

When We Hit a Wall in Storytelling, the Intellect is Ill-Equipped to Deal with the Problem

Creatives tend to associate the creative process with the Intellect. In my own case, I’ve spared no amount of humility in relishing the brilliance of the story ideas that have come to me.

Since we experience most of our lives through the Intellect, seated in the waking Ordinary Consciousness, we generally link our personal identity to the workings of the Intellect.

The challenge is that, once we hit a wall in the storytelling, the Intellect is ill-equipped to deal with the problem and—since we associate so closely with the Intellect—we can feel ourselves unworthy of the challenge.

In reality, Creativity exists in a realm independent of the Intellect. This is Plato’s Realm of Ideals, Jung’s Collective Unconscious, and Campbell’s Monomyth. Humans function on at least nine levels of consciousness, and it is the personal Unconscious that connects with this Source of Story, the fruits of which are conveyed to the Ordinary Consciousness (and Intellect) by the Subconscious Mind, the messenger these realms.

How Tapping Into the Collective Unconscious Can Unearth Your Story

Shamanic tools of divination, including the Norse Runes, provide a means of connecting to the Unconscious.

Given the innate and subtle symbolism of the characters, the Ordinary Consciousness (Intellect, or left brain) is distracted with the task of establishing sound value, literal meaning, and other associations, while the Unconscious (Creativity, or right brain) is free to dive into the deeper levels of consciousness where Story resides.

My studies into Shamanic practices (Runes in particular) showed me the connection among the various levels of consciousness, and that the experiences of Shamanic journeying are precisely the same as those of deep creativity and storytelling.

Whether journeying for a soul retrieval, to find the source of a physical ailment, or to learn the next chapter of a story, the processes and tools to tapping into the Collective Unconscious are universal and wholly adaptable.

How to Use Runecasting to Get Past Writer’s Block

The most generic application [of my tools] is what I’ve labeled the Web of Wyrd runecasting.

In traditional Shamanic usage, this is a powerful decision-making tool when facing an impasse. It helps the subject understand the conditions that have led to the present situation, where the general momentum might lead them, and what might be done to find a different outcome.

In storytelling terms, if a story stalls out or if the writer is unsure of what direction to take, this quick runecasting can give some insight into how we turned into the brick wall, and what story choices might come to play to get things underway once more.

Storytelling Doesn’t Need to be a Struggle

Story matters. Just as ancient myths laid the foundations for healthy and proper conduct among individuals, societies, and nature, so today’s stories can bring a similar balance and healing.

Everyone whom the Muse has tapped on the shoulder or whispered in the ear is a vital partner in bringing about the power of Story.

Storytelling isn’t necessarily easy, but it needn’t be struggle. The Unconscious Mind has access to every element that will make a story vibrant and meaningful and whole, and the storyteller has everything at her disposal to bring these into the world.

How the Subconscious Mind Projects Revelations from the Unconscious Into the Physical World: Examples from Star Trek

An exciting revelation [while writing this book] was how common many of these seemingly woo-woo ideas are in the mainstream of popular entertainment.

[NERD ALERT] Specific to how the Subconscious actually projects the revelation of the Unconscious into the physical world, the brilliant minds behind Star Trek: The Next Generation were way ahead of me.

In the book, I explain how the Subconscious tracks and manipulates the vagaries of cards in a shuffle or dice in a throw to relay the messages from the Unconscious.

The Star Trek creatives beautifully use the android Commander Data as a proxy for the Subconscious in both Episode 2:12, The Royale (dice), and Episode 5:18, Cause and Effect (cards).

It was very rewarding to find I wasn’t the first to express these ideas, and gratifying to find them in a show that shaped my creative worldview in those formative years.

Advice to a Writer Struggling with Writer’s Block: Find the Tools You Need to Connect to Your Creativity

[When struggling with writer’s block:] First and foremost, the problem is not you.

You don’t have to be smarter, work harder, be more dedicated, or any of the other mantras the roll-up-your-sleeves crowd likes to throw out.

The Muse whispered this story to you for a reason. She chose you to tell it in your manner to reach a very specific audience.

If you’re blocked, it’s not because you are not smart enough, are too lazy, or don’t care enough. You simply need to employ the right tool for the right job.

The same Source of Story that first brought you the idea is the same source that will help you bring this idea into beautiful fruition. Whether you use the Runes, Tarot, dreamwork, writing prompts, or any other tool, the important thing is that you find a means to strengthen your connection to that Realm of Creativity, to dare in the face of Resistance, and to have the courage and fortitude to birth your story into the world.

At the risk of overusing a popular and now unattributable quote, I can’t promise you it will be easy, but I promise it will be worth it.

* * *

Marc Graham was raised in Michigan before attending Rice University in Texas, where he studied mechanical engineering. After spending several years traveling the country with his wife, he eventually landed in Colorado where he lives along the Rocky Mountains.

His first novel, Of Ashes and Dust, won the Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest and National Writers Association Manuscript Contest. Graham is an actor, speaker, story coach, shamanic practitioner, and whisky aficionado. When not on stage, in a pub, or bound to his computer, he can be found traipsing about the foothills and mountains with his wife and their Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

To learn more about Marc and his work, please see his website, and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.


Runes for Writers: Tired of struggling with writer’s block?

This rediscovered ancient system helps storytellers more easily access the realm of ideas, the world of the Muses, the Source of Story.

By integrating left- and right-brain activity, you can open your awareness to the subconscious levels where true creativity takes place.

Runes for Writers can take you from blocked to un-blocked. For good.

Available at Amazon and Indiebound.

 

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