SMITH: Lessons from writer’s block

I lead an early-morning weight training class for a few women twice a week. I generally roll out of bed with just enough time to meditate and grab a cup of coffee before I need to be in the studio.

Last week, after that class, I jumped in the shower and dressed again just in time to teach my first private yoga session of the day. It was during that class that I noticed a terrible headache coming on. By shavasana, I was really nauseous and dizzy and certain that I had contracted COVID.

Luckily, it was a far easier fix. I had simply forgotten to eat breakfast, and three cups of coffee on top of a 17-hour fast was not the proper input for my physically demanding day. It was easily reversed with some pistachios and blueberries.

It was a simple input versus output equation. My body was exerting too much energy without filling the digestive tank.

It occurs to me that this same input-output equation works for our creative muscles as well.

You see, for the last few months, I have been struggling with writer’s block. Day after day, I open my laptop and start a new document. I take a deep breath, my fingers perched over the keyboard and … nothing. Nada.

The Muse remains as silent as the Sphinx, and the page remains as blank as my mind. Most days, I sit so long that my computer shifts into sleep mode, even my trusty laptop tired of waiting for inspiration.

Nothing is more frustrating to a writer than a blank page, especially when there’s a weekly deadline.

A blank page mocks us. The blinking cursor curses over and over. Crap. Crap. Crap.

The word inspiration comes from the Old French inspiracion, meaning to inhale.

It was often interpreted as a feeling of creative force received from the gods breathing insight directly into our bodies.

So what’s happening with writer’s block? Where is my divine inhale?

Inhaling is an active process, and the quality of that inhale should matter a great deal.

Remember my dizzy day? If I had thrown a donut on top of an empty, overly caffeinated belly, I would not have felt any better. The initial sugar rush would feel sublime, of course, but the crash would have made the nausea and headache even worse. We require quality input for quality output.

So if I want to exhale something of value, I must ask myself what I’m inhaling.

What books, music and movies am I consuming?

What sorts of conversations am I having?

Am I using my time in a way that challenges and uplifts my mind or am I simply a passive consumer of news and entertainment? Every time we browse, swipe, click, read or listen, we make an important decision.

So I took a prolonged digital detox. I replaced my social media time with podcasts (Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell is excellent), books (working my way through Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club recommendations with occasional stops for a good Jack Reacher saga), quality Netflix (“Schitt’s Creek” and “The Queen’s Gambit”) and music (can’t stop playing Billy Joel’s “The Stranger”). I’ve also re-adopted hikes where I leave my phone at home (can you even imagine?)

All this to say that I’m trying mightily to intentionally improve the quality of my inspiracions by being an active consumer instead of a passive one. And even though I’m still struggling to find the right stories and lessons to share, my creative goals are more aligned with mindful consumption choices.

If we want our bodies to perform well, we must feed them well. The same goes with our minds.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness” and the online host of the OM channel.