On Being Stuck: Tapping Into the Creative Power of Writer's Block
by Laraine Herring

Shambhala, 2016. ISBN 978-1-611-80290-0.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 08/31/2016

Nonfiction: Creative Life

Laraine Herring invites writers to create their own "Foundation Tool Kit" of "practices, prompts, movement activities, and playlists" to help move forward and deeper into their work. Besides making pencil notations throughout the book, I have typed up my "tool kit". It's full of questions for "Deep Inquiry," writing prompts, body and breath exercises, and a range of innovative approaches that I can use in my relationship with writing.

Writer's block can force a writer to slow down and as Herring says, that can be helpful so you won't publish too quickly or press "Send" too fast. That's a positive way of approaching what we may see as a "block" and Herring has lots of non-judgmental and wise advice like that throughout the thirty-four chapters of her book.

Writing is a relationship as is the block, so Herring suggests pouring it some tea. Have a conversation. You may find you can hold hands across the table instead. You may find the block itself is the very heart of your work."

Herring offers wisdom from her own experience as a writer such as: "This is a lifelong journey; the only destination is the next word." Also, rather than tracking our outcome, how about pursuing our curiosity? "Soulful meandering" sounds like a good idea to me particularly, as Herring points out, research has shown the value of unstructured activity and time for adults as well as children.

"Questions stretch your work alive," Herring says and there are lots of questions as Deep Inquiry Practices in the book. I think she's right about questions being "open doors" as they "move you away from the stagnation of certainty into the openness of wonder."

There can be such enthusiasm for a new idea and the beginning of a new project. I've found, it's the middle that's a challenge when all the judgments about whether the project is really worth it get in the way of continuing.

In "Embrace the Middle," Herring sees the middle of a book as "the connective tissue between the innocence of the beginning and the wisdom of the end. It holds everything together. Without the middle, the ends collapse. It provides a thematic container for the entire book. In the middle, the questions that were raised in the beginning come to full fruition. We start to understand the real stakes of the story... As writers, we must pause for this uncertainty, so we will take the risk and make the changes needed to move forward."

Writing is a slow process and Herring encourages paying attention during it. She affirms that writing helps you whether you publish or not. For many, writing will be a companion for life so "create a sustainable relationship with your writing that's based on mutual respect, trust, and commitment," Herring advises.

It's good to remember that even when you're not writing, you're still a writer as it's "a way of navigating the world" and a way of always noticing, feeling and imagining "all that is around you."

There's so much that is of value in this book and I'm very grateful for it. The practices are helpful for sustaining a writing practice and the writing life whether you describe yourself as "stuck" or not.

There are many quotes I've written down as affirmations and I'll close with one of them from one of the final chapters, "Devote Yourself to Your Writing": "If you choose writing as one of your acts of devotion, prepare to be a student of its wisdom as long as you show up for its gifts. Writing will pull you forward into places you can't yet see. It will bring with it the challenges you need to become more fully alive and awake. It will bring with it the obstacles you need to grow."

Read an excerpt from this book.

Laraine Herring has written other books on writing including The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice and Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice. She holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in counseling psychology and directs the creative writing program at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. Visit her website.

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