‘Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all” ― Charles Bukowski
In the interests of research, I just did a web search for jokes about writer’s block. There aren’t any. Or if there are, they aren’t funny. Maybe that’s because the subject itself isn’t funny. If you’re a writer then you know what I mean (if you don’t, then please don’t tell me). There are times when writing flows, and times when constructing the most basic sentence seems like a massive, even painful, undertaking. You read your words back to yourself and they all sound awful, your characters don’t make sense and no amount of caffeine or sugar can help.
The best thing to do, I’ve learnt, is to step away. Except that I can’t. Instead I stare at my screen despondently, hoping that everything will start to make sense again, and it doesn’t. So I mope about the house, bewailing the loss of any discernible talent, convinced that the ability to write will never come back.
This happens to me, on average, every six weeks. I don’t know whether identifying a pattern is counter-productive or not, since it might sub-consciously lead me to expect it, but this time, in an attempt to better understand my enemy, I did some research.
According to Merriam-Webster, the medical definition of Writer’s Block is –
“a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece of writing.”
Many writers have written about feeling blocked, but the condition (strange how its being a ‘condition’ makes me feel a little better) was officially diagnosed in 1947 by a psychiatrist called Edmund Bergler. His psychoanalytic-based approach was then expanded in the 1970s and 80s by Yale psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios, who conducted a larger study to work out the basis of writers’ block. Unsurprisingly, they identified symptoms of depression, helplessness and anxiety, but also determined that it was a far more complex condition than previously thought, having a range of causes and affecting different writers differently. Unfortunately (from my perspective) that only leads to more questions. If there are many potential causes of writer’s block (emotional issues, too many ideas, not enough ideas, deadline stress, fear of criticism etc), as well as responses (ranging from apathy to active hostility) then finding a solution surely depends on first figuring out exactly what type of writer’s block you have?
Did I mention that I just want to write?
On the other hand, the more research I did, the more I realised that I haven’t experienced writer’s block at all – not really. Extreme cases, such as Coleridge, Melville and Fitzgerald, are comparatively rare. What I have are occasional slumps and a tendency to over-dramatise.
After two weeks of googling solutions and feeling sorry for myself, however, I decided to moan about it on Twitter. To be honest, I only wanted to tweet (just to prove to myself that I could still write something). I didn’t really expect anyone to notice, but instead I found myself getting supportive tweets back. No one told me I was whining. People made suggestions, sent hugs and funny gifs. Readers and writers were all overwhelmingly nice, to the point where I felt guilty for having mentioned it. So thanks to all those people. Next time I start to panic (and I know I will) I’m going to remember all that support to calm myself down again.
I’m also going to remember this, which I found whilst researching. There’s so much advice, some of it conflicting (in particular the go-for-a-walk versus the write-anything-even-if-it’s-rubbish schools of thought) but this from Hilary Mantel really resonated with me –
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
Next time, I promise, I’m going to be patient.