It happens to the best of us at some point… the will is there, but the words aren’t. In fact, the harder you try, the worse it gets. Yes, writer’s block is a condition that is well known among writers of all disciplines, when the author loses the ability to produce new work. A deadline could be fast approaching; the bills need to be paid; but the creative flow has gone. Many “blocked” writers stay unable to work for years on end and some eventually abandon their careers.
These are the symptoms: the prospect of filling a single sheet of white paper seems to grow to the size of a tablecloth. Then, to a football pitch. The laptop hums with malevolent intent and in sets paranoia. The blocked writer feels he has nothing of interest or amusement to impart to the world. Words refuse to shift – as they once had previously – and the brain feels like a fair-weathered friend who left once the champagne ran out and didn’t call the next day. Self-worth drags along the floor like a flat tire. As a last resort, in an attempt to unblock oneself, some writers may even go to Wikipedia and consider destroying any professional credibility they ever had or aspired to have. Searches for “trepanning” bring considerations of whether or not a quack could help. Razor blades start to look like fun.
So, what causes this dreaded affliction that sounds like the start to a Stephen King film? Why does Inspiration run dry? Adverse circumstances in a person’s life or career which can contribute include: physical illness, depression, the end of a relationship, financial pressures, and a sense of failure. Sometimes, the pressure to produce work may itself contribute to writer’s block, especially if a person is compelled to work in ways which are against their natural disposition, i.e. too fast or in some unsuitable style or genre. Previous big success can be a blocker too, with the pressure to maintain the same level of achievement.
If the dreaded block strikes, remember you are not alone. Some of the best writers suffered from writers block including Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, and Katherine Mansfield. Writer’s block is not a sign of weakness; it may just be a sign that the writer is taking himself too seriously and that nagging self-censor in the head is telling them their last two chapters/stanzas/scenes are less than Shakespearean brilliance. Being over-precocious doesn’t help either –
Just as bad as writer’s block, if less common, is its opposite, writer’s superfluity, when an author has no trouble summoning words, but doesn’t know when to stop. Instead of a blank sheet of paper, he or she ends up with a 300,000-word, epic, Lock Ness Monster of a manuscript that hasn’t done what the writer wanted. Frankenstein’s creation has nothing on it. It’s an editor’s worst nightmare; yet it is still, in many ways, far better than an empty page of nothingness. At least, there’s something to work with. Better to have too much than too little or nothing at all. Yet it is still like a form of diarrhoea which gives the editor the thankless task of wading through a quagmire of editorial effluence to discover whether the author is full of shining wit or not.
Fear not, as help is at hand. Numerous therapies are recommended for block-sufferers:
* Reading, watching movies or plays, or similar activities might bring inspiration.
* Keep a notebook, write as though sending a letter to a friend, go to the gym, eat apples in the bath (Agatha Christie’s recommendation for kick-starting the imagination).
* Engaging in brief periods of “free” writing or in which you impulsively write whatever comes to mind.
* Listening to a hypnotherapy or a meditation tape. Calming down the internal ranting can then allow inspiration to flow uncorked again.
* Listen to music.
* Join a writing group or join a free online writing group.
* Doodle – aimless scribbling or drawing can release creativity.
* Sex is allegedly a good unblocker. Personally, I won’t say.
By Anya Hastwell