How a Library Cat and a Non-Conformist Blogger Helped Me Dissolve A Writing Block

The Long Retreat

Reading on Cloud. Image by Tom Wang, Dreamstime.comHas your enthusiasm for a project ever strayed so far off that you wondered if there was any point in returning to it? I confess. I fell off the blogging wagon and regular writing practice somewhere in early January of this year. It’s taken this long to find my way back to writing for Sage Wit.  Here’s what happened.

I sat down in early January of this year to write another post for Sage Wit. But I was neither inspired by, nor pleased with anything I wrote. The more I pushed to write something, the less I liked the first draft.  So I chose to back off and write nothing until I’d resolved the underlying cause of the writer’s block.  It was time to step away from the blog, get some fresh air and fresh insights, and “notice what I noticed”. I sent the “mute”inous muse to a quiet room for an extended time-out.  While she was busy gazing into a reflective pond and deciding what she wanted to tell me, I stayed busy with other projects and various activities that I enjoy.

A Reading Break

Among other things, I chose to spend some time just reading for pleasure. Whether I’m reading fiction or non-fiction, I take delight in losing myself in the world of ideas and/or characters that “live” on the pages of books.  More often than not, I come away from a book feeling inspired and rejuvenated.

I read a total of 5 books during my blogging sabbatical: one memoir, one novel, one “self-help” book, and two books on writing and editing. Two books in particular inspired some new insights: Dewey. The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron (2010), and The Art of Non-Conformity. Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau (2010).

I picked up a copy of Dewey on an impulse. The photo of him on the book cover was just too adorable to resist, and I was intrigued (and pleased) to see a book about a cat that made a positive difference in the world. If you’re not familiar with the story, Dewey was an abandoned kitten who was placed in the book return slot of the Spencer, Iowa, public library, one bitterly cold January night. The librarians who found him were given permission to let Dewey stay and live in the library. Dewey lived there for 19 years, quietly using his gift of figuring out which person most needed to take comfort from him and then setting about to cheer up that individual. Vicki Myron sums up the lessons about life that she learned from Dewey as follows: “Everybody has a place and everybody makes a difference. Everybody.” (p. 275) Dewey was also a reminder to her that living a good life is not about material things; it’s about love and treating everyone well (p. 270).  I would add that the book also highlights the inner strength, resilience, and grace of the author and the townspeople, as well as Dewey, in the face of difficulties.

I started reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, The Art of Non-Conformity, just a few days after I’d finished reading about Vicki Myron’s library cat, Dewey.  The subtitle of Chris Guillebeau’s book—Set your own rules, live the life you want, and change the world—sums up what the book is about.  Chris outlines his approach to living the life you want to live on your own terms, and offers some suggestions for starting down that path. It seems that for Chris, like Vicki Myron, life is also much more about relationships, experiences, and making a positive difference in the world than it is about material possessions and monetary wealth.  According to Chris, we’re more likely to lead a good life and make a difference if we’re clear on what we want and we’re courageous enough to live on our own terms rather than unquestioningly following the herd.

Although the two books represent different genres and styles of writing, the key messages in each book were remarkably similar.  Those messages served as both a lamp that revealed the real source of my writing discontent and the key which unlocked the cell door of my writer’s block.

Time for Reflection

Hmm, two books with similar messages in the space of two weeks?  Thanks to the inner work tools I’ve used from my friend Kate Sutherland’s book, Make Light Work, (2010), I recognized this “coincidence” (or synchronicity, if you prefer) as a “flirt”. A flirt is a cue or sign for us to take notice of something—an object, an event or some other phenomenon—that appears in our awareness and that may have some insights or answers for us.  I responded to the flirt, and stayed open to whatever answers came to me through inner knowing.

So what lessons did I draw from Dewey the library cat and a book about the art of non-conformity? Like Vicki Myron, I also believe that everyone does have a place and everyone, including a cat, can make a positive difference in the world. But I would go one step further and suggest that being in the right place for us is the magic that supports us in our ability to make a difference in the world, whether it’s for one person or many. We cannot effectively make a difference if we are not in the right place for us. It requires too much energy trying to reshape ourselves to fit into the wrong space for us; it compresses our inner wisdom, initiative and inspiration.

Rather than struggling in the wrong place—whether it’s a physical environment or in a box of our own creation, fashioned from various limiting beliefs—we have to find or create the right place that will support our desire to make a difference in the world. As Chris Guillebeau points out, that often means challenging widely held assumptions and choosing not to follow the crowd.  I know this intuitively, and resonated with his call to think independently and—assuming no one else is getting hurt in the process—set your own rules.  When it came to my blog, I forgot to challenge the rules and set my own terms.

Resolving and Dissolving my Writer’s Block

Since starting my blog last year, I’ve experienced (alright, created) an ongoing conflict between what I think I “should” be writing about versus what I’m inspired to write about, and trying to reconcile what I’ve read about successful blogs with what I’d originally envisioned as the purpose of my blog.  I wanted to use my blog as a way of empowering myself and others to create a more socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling human presence on the planet. Specifically, I wanted to draw on my writing and research skills to write articles that would inspire and encourage individuals who want to bring about positive changes to take some small steps on their path to being the change they want to see.  I also wanted to write about the writing process and the skills we need to think independently and successfully advocate for change.

I am most inspired by thoughtful, eloquent essays and social commentaries about a wide range of complex issues with no simple answers.  It seems my preferences, in terms of both content and writing style, are counter-intuitive to most of the conventional advice about blogging: write topics that will attract an audience and write short, upbeat, focused articles that help your readers solve their problems.

The advice works really well for certain kinds of blogs.  It just didn’t work for me. The more I tried to adhere to the principles of successful blogging outlined in the multitude of published articles on the subject, the more misaligned I felt with both my writing voice and the initial vision I had for Sage Wit.

My intent, as I mentioned above, had been to create a blog that was primarily intended as a commentary on social issues, the creative process, and how to think independently and advocate for ourselves and the planet. It was meant to be a companion to my web site—not the business and marketing page for it.  Yet, I allowed a fear of what might happen if I didn’t follow the guidelines (no-one would read my posts or they would be judged as “too philosophical” or “not pragmatic enough”) to place me in an ill-fitting box that’s been cramping my writing style ever since.

So, what’s been keeping me in the box? Well, it seems I didn’t fully trust that showing up on the page and writing what wants to come through my inner wisdom might, in fact, lead to some pleasant surprises.  It’s amazing, and disconcerting, how quickly our egos will sell us out to following the safe path if we fall into the fear and scarcity mindset.  What a dilemma—and what a great story for staying stuck.

I wanted my blog to be successful, and being new to blogging, I figured that following the strategies suggested for successful blogging would be the safe path to follow.  But in doing so, I was trying to fit myself into the wrong place for me and consequently not doing a particularly good job of making a difference for myself or anyone else. Now I see that misstep number one was not taking the time to clearly define what success means to me. Misstep number two was trying to apply a set of strategies that work really well for certain kinds of blogs but not so well for a blog whose identity, at heart, was intended as a commentary on social issues and the writing process.

Thanks to a library cat and a blogger who likes to encourage non-conformity, it finally dawned on me that I had created a lot of unnecessary struggle for myself when it came to writing for my blog. I know that my best writing comes through my heart, and that readers are more likely to engage with a piece of writing when they feel the writer`s enthusiasm and passion radiate off the page.  I’m moving forward now, on my own terms, and looking forward to seeing what finds its way onto the pages at Sage Wit.  I hope you’ll follow along with me.

How about you? Is there a time when you discovered that by following the safe path you became disconnected from your inner vision or inspiration?  How did you get yourself back into the right space for you?  I would love to hear your stories in the comments section below.

Please note that thanks to evil spambots, I’ve had to install a verification code for comments. I apologize to readers for having to put you through one extra step before posting your comments. The good news is that I’ve made it as painless as possible: You only have to type in the four characters shown, and there are no funky, hard to read fonts or nonsense words.

March 2, 2011 · Susan · 6 Comments
Posted in: Uncategorized

6 Responses

  1. Pam Sourelis - March 3, 2011

    Brilliant!

    I have never heard the term “flirt,” but I have experienced that alignment of texts that opens the door to a new awareness.

    I am thrilled that you have found your blogging path, and I look forward to reading your thoughts in the months and years to come.

  2. Susan - March 3, 2011

    Hi Pam,

    Thanks for your comment. If you check out the link to Kate’s web site, you can find out more about flirts there. In this case, it happened to be the alignment of texts that helped me gain awareness, but other things can be flirts, too.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where the muse will lead me now that she has free reign. I’m looking forward to reading your and other readers’ thoughts and comments. I really believe that communication and shared wisdom is the magic that supports positive and peaceful social change.

  3. Kate - March 7, 2011

    Hi Sue,

    I really enjoyed this post. So many great reminders: defining success as I (each of us) see it, honouring the snowflake like uniqueness of our journey. Thanks for supporting me to do that in my journey. And big thanks for the links re flirts.
    LOVE,
    Kate

  4. Susan - March 7, 2011

    Hi Kate,

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the article. Thank you for the wisdom, joy, and encouragement that you give to others on their journeys. It’s through community, sharing and encouragement that we empower ourselves and others to make changes. I’m always happy to link back to your book–it’s such a great resource.
    Bright blessings,
    Sue

  5. Karl Staib - Work Happy Now - March 10, 2011

    The Art of Nonconformity is a great book. I love how he breaks down what has worked for him and other great career artists and what didn’t.

    I’m with you about the content of a blog. It’s not easy, but the most important part is to stay consistent. Your readers will find you because of your unique perspective. It’s these people that will stick with you through thick and thin.

  6. Susan - March 10, 2011

    Hi Karl,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think it’s easier to be consistent when we’re clear about our blog’s identity. Choosing to mostly write about social and environmental issues very conveniently offers a lot of latitude in the content department.

    One of the themes I really liked in The Art of Nonconformity was the reminder that we have a choice about whether we want to follow “the wisdom of the herd”. Sometimes it’s a wise choice to do so, and other times we get farther ahead by having the courage to question the status quo and do something different.

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