The Constipated Writer

Unless you’re the parent of a toddler or the caretaker of a senior citizen, constipation is not a socially acceptable topic of conversation. For some reason, discussing the bowel movements of people who wear diapers is perfectly all right, while everyone else suffers along in silence.

So what happens when writers (or artists, or musicians, or dancers, or designers, or other creative types) experience creativity constipation? The symptoms are similar: irritability, discomfort, fatigue, isolation, the ingestion of strange substances in a desperate attempt to “get things moving.”

Writers with creative constipation will sit and strain, sometimes for long periods of time, but no words come forth. Any words or phrases that do appear tend to flit by as quickly as they came. There’s no relief.

Shift positions. (Did you know there are yoga asanas for constipation? Are there yoga asanas for writers?) Change rooms. Change chairs. Clean the desk. Sort the mail. Defrag the computer. Make new folders for your WIP. Eat. A lot. Surely one more trip to the pantry for another handful of calorie-laden simple carbohydrates will trigger some kind of movement, right?

Redesign your blog page. Update your website. Look up inspiring writerly quotes to post all around your desk. Consider buying novel writing software. Balance checkbook. Never mind.

Go for a walk. Try to think about novel. About plot. Imagine your characters. Wonder why that contest judge made that comment. Rethink your ability to write anything worth reading. Worry about dying in a tiny apartment, surrounded not by stacks of ancient National Geographic magazines and yellowed copies of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but amid ceiling-high reams of unfinished and/or unpublished manuscripts.

Attempt snowflake method. Again. Can’t get past first three steps.

Debate taking up smoking and drinking bourbon. After all, it worked for Stephen King for a long time. Once you get famous you can afford to go to rehab with Lindsay.

Oh, yeah, you’re supposed to be writing inspirational Christian fiction. Opt for prayer instead of bourbon. Feel selfish and narcissistic for praying for your own success at a task you’ve wanted to do since long before you were born again. Does God even LIKE fiction?

Give up. Turn off computer. Go to bed. No sooner than your bloodshot eyes slip closed, ideas stir. Sentences form. Plot twists emerge.

Your creativity, you realize, isn’t dead. Your writing ability, at whatever level it may be, is not the issue right now. The problem, quite simply, is fear.

You’re afraid it will hurt to get that story out. Afraid to finish what you started. Afraid you’ll split open from the inside and bleed to death on the pages. Or, like the toddler who screams hysterically the first time the potty chair is emptied into the toilet and flushed away, you’re afraid YOU will disappear when your story becomes reality. You’ll lose your identity the way mothers have Empty Nest syndrome when their children move away from home. Maybe you’re afraid you’re going to be embarrassed, humiliated, and rejected by others because of your bodily functions… like making a stink in a public restroom without benefit of air freshener or a fan.

What’s the cure? Prune juice? Milk of magnesia? Ex-lax? Fiber? More water? All reasonable ideas that have practical applications from a creative point of view. (But you’re going to have to find your own definitions for writerly prune juice.)

Step back, separate yourself from the rules and and the pressure and that big hairy deadline looming just around the corner and remind yourself why you originally started doing what you do. Just like David prayed, “Lord, restore to me the joy of my salvation.” We need to have the joy of creating something, just for the fun of it, restored to us.

From one (formerly) constipated pre-published writer to another…

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3 thoughts on “The Constipated Writer

  1. Heather says:

    As the mother of a child with clinical strength constipation issues since 5 months old I understand every syllable of this comparison!
    I sure wish people talked about their constipation (physical, spritual, creative or otherwise) more openly. Then maybe we would have some answers for the issues that are plaguing us. Instead everyone just parades around acting "regular".
    For physical constipation, I can tell you, Mirilax and Exlax are a miracle working team. Forget what anyone says about taking stimulants. All of us need a little stimulation sometimes. How that relates to writting with have to be your creative take.

  2. patti says:

    LOVE this post. Niki, you are SOOOO creative!

    I never connected THAT bodily dysfunction with writing but love your suggestion to keep things moving in other creative areas!!!


  3. Niki Turner says:

    @Heather – Isn't it amazing how the things that get talked about are the things they find workable solutions for?
    Love the stimulant thought. Perhaps that's why writers are known for being coffee addicts!

    @Patti – Thanks, Patti! God likes to give me unusual word pictures… I must be a slow learner. : )

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