My friend D is having a hard time finishing his dissertation. Itʼs a common problem, but it comes as a shock to me that it would affect him, who Iʼve known for fifteen years to be a responsible colleague and go-to friend who can be trusted no matter how unappealing or arduous the task. Witnessing his struggle, it appears that confrontation with the ABD bogey is disconnected from both will and ability.
Another friend is training for the Louisville Ironman. He has cranked-up the last fifty days of his training in temperatures consistently breaking one hundred, in stints that last from five to eight hours. Last Saturday broke a 109 degree record in Nashville, but he persevered, managing his body on that borderline between heat fatigue and heat exhaustion. Sheer determination, rock-hard ego.
The two of them have me thinking about drive, as it relates to writing, which is not strictly a matter of forcefulness. As a professor indoctrinated by the American academic system, I understand discipline. As a yogini, I have observed a few of the mindʼs limits. As a former newspaper writer, I recognize unexpected challenges that arise on assignment. I can apply none of this knowing to help my friend over his last hurdle. I canʼt even cheer from the sidelines or offer electrolytes, as I might the Ironman. Even offering to talk about it takes energy that might be better spent.
I have heard it mocked that writerʼs block is a luxury of the profession—that shoe sellers suffer no such ailment. I have also shirked my desk, a hangdog poet between stints—worse, no longer a writer between writing, nothing. I have also ignored my reluctance and pushed through, drawn it out. Drawing helped, because I had something to show for it afterward. Sometimes the very things we use to procrastinate save us.
Will is involved in fulfillment, but it is not alone responsible for a sense of reward. Challenge is a stage of accomplishment. Obstacle creates the sensation of moving past, forward.
In the essay, “Getting Along With Nature,” Wendell Berry says that wildness and domesticity are not in opposition, as they first seem, but in an interdependent, necessary partnership. He offers the example of a bird sanctuary that has begun to die in the attempt by officials to preserve their habitat. Their zealousness destroyed its inherent heterogeneity. The world is messy. Nothing can be eliminated without sacrificing something else, however apparent or surprising. A forest can get so orderly it becomes unnatural.
Block or discomfort in the gaps between writing may be similarly requisite, as integral to the process as proofreading. Rather than resist or bemoan it, I wonder if a writer should learn to protect it, be grateful for the resistance that builds up pressure. It is perhaps a kind of under-regarded fuel that creates the right climate for production.
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks, Farm and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man. She won the 2012 Pavement Saw Chapbook Contest for The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip, which is forthcoming.