Here be (writing) dragons

Writer’s block. No one talks about how painful it is and how disconnected it makes you feel from everything around you. You don’t, or can’t I suppose, realise just how disconcerting it is until it grabs you by the collar and shakes you around. Well actually, it doesn’t so much grab you, as it numbs you from your toes to your hair follicles, as if you’ve been infected by some kind of anti-writing venom. You can’t compose, you can’t think, you can’t function. You walk around in a daze wondering what you did to anger the muse.

Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t believe in writer’s block. But then a lot of people think Columbus set out to prove the world was round, or that ‘Here be Dragons’ was inscribed on ancient maps. In actuality it was only one map, The Lenox Globe (1503-1507). Although it was common practice to draw dragons and other besties on uncharted land masses, no one knows how the dragon quote became popular. But one is all it takes to create myth. One person to refute (or to believe) something with enough conviction so that it enters the public consciousness as truth.

The best argument I’ve read about the non-existence of WB is from a writer who believes that when the conscious brain is aware of the subconscious, it stops working. And trying to write consciously is like the reverse of sleep walking: you are acutely aware of every sound, every action. Like that film ‘Awake’, where the guy who plays Anakin Skywalker fails to get properly anesthetized during surgery. Silent screaming would have been a better title. Silent screaming would have also been a fair assessment of the audience’s reaction at the cinema.

With regard to the WB refutation, I agree that it may be a temporary but necessary psychological ruse created by the crafty subconscious to make time for the creative process. Maybe what the nay-sayers mean is that WB doesn’t exist, as it isn’t ours to control in the first place. But surely in saying that, they’ve made a case for it rather than against it? What I don’t have time for are those silly little websites that insist that WB is just an excuse made up by lazy, procrastinating, run out of ideas, poor prose penning writers. Or those blogs that advise you to close your eyes and repeat the phrase: writer’s block does not exist, writer’s block does not exist.

I wonder if they cure a broken leg the same way? I just shows how little we understand about the role of the conscious and subconscious. In many ways the creative process is terra incognita – the area where our knowledge ends and uncertainty begins. We may as well start drawing dragons on the borders of unfinished work. Instead, we blame ourselves if we get stuck and wonder why we can’t overcome our failures. We deny WB even exists, while hoping desperately that we never catch it. Superstition is not a new thing for writers.I’m lucky not to be going through WB at the moment.

I’ve had it twice. Both times it lasted months. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake off the ennui. Out of interest, I’ve done a little research on how writers try to combat the dreaded block. I’ve noted the more plausible suggestions. Please feel free to ignore them or share your thoughts.PS: I’m also interested if you don’t believe in WB. I promise not to bite your head off but I may secretly hate you.

Tips for banishing writer’s block:

1. forget writing and do something else.

2. forget writing. Get a notebook, observe people, trees and other things, make it your observations notebook

3. start a new writing project, leave the other one in the drawer

4. make a list of all the reasons you want to be a writer and go through them every day until you motivate yourself/or go crazy

5. read a book called ‘The Artists’ Way’ that treats WB like a 12-step program. I’ve not read the book but i’m interested to know if anyone has.

6. angst, depression and fear are suspected contenders in WB, give yourself time to do what you normally do in those situations, heal, take long walks, give yourself some needed rest

7. research the lives of other writers, did they suffer from WB? how did they start writing again, or talk to writer friends, join a support network, talk about fears/issues

8. paint, take up drawing or doodling, think of things pictorially instead of verbally, be as abstract as you want to be, or be literal

9. change your desk around, change your notebooks, buy a new pen, move your chair, your bookcase, your furniture

10. try something physical like running or yoga. during sessions don’t think about writing. focus on breathing and your body, disconnect from the thought process.

Good luck.

3 Comments

  1. I have serious problems with the whole phrase and concept of writers’ block, I must admit. It’s too easy a term for many (though not all) to bandy about whenever they simply can’t be bothered. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a recognised problem, at times, for those of us who do genuinely work at it — but some, I’m afraid, wear it like a badge of honour, thinking it somehow romanticises their chosen craft.For me, if I’m being brutally frank, the real problems arise when we start treating it like a psychological condition. How do we fix it? What can we do? That just doesn’t feel right to me, somehow. But, then, you know my approach. Head down, 1000 words, if they’re rubbish, they’re rubbish — at least I’ve written something! For me, it’s work, much as working in construction is work (do builders suffer with builders’ block?… bad example, probably!), and maybe thinking of it in those clear-cut terms has helped me, I don’t know.The last thing I would ever wish to do is trivialise another writer’s experience of this, because some genuinely gifted people do occasionally reach a dead end — but… in those genuine cases (i.e. not those wannabes who just want a day off) I think we need to look beyond the writing. Life can get in the way, at times, and maybe it wouldn’t seem quite so scary if we thought of it in those terms, instead?(Incidentally, I’ve just posted a couple of tweets ranting a little about writing stuff. They were in no way inspired by this post! Have just had a few melodramatic types around today!)

  2. HI Gary,I appreciate the comment, but I’m afraid I don’t agree completely with your view, as it implies that writers who feel creatively blocked, are a bunch of melodramatic romantics who revel in feeling constricted; while ‘real’ writers, those salt of the earth types who ‘genuinely work’ at their craft, keep their eyes down and are never impeded by doubt or worry. Talk about wearing a badge of honour!You see, I don’t think writing is anything like construction work. A building is more than bricks and mortar; it relies on architects and engineers, on blueprints and design, and sometimes (depending on the building) it is all about inspiration. Pretending it is a question of simply putting one block in front of the other, forgetting that the entire tangible thing is built first and foremost on ideas, is a little convenient for your argument.As a writer, you are solely responsible for putting all the above in place: the words, the structure, the cornerstone on which it all hangs – all down to you. If we had other people to hand us what we needed, than yes, we would be more like your construction worker example. And even then, we’d want to sit around drinking tea all day and chatting rather than writing. Not so strangely, architects and designers also get ‘blocked’. Musicians get second album syndrome. Painters become unstuck trying to achieve that perfect vision.I can’t speak for all writers and I think there are different types of blocks. But in most situations, I don’t think being it is a ‘wannabe’ thing. It feels too ragged and painful. Of course there are some as you described. There are many others like me, with periods where they feel confused and riddled with fear and anxiety. Thankfully we move on. But it is a dark and disconnected time, mainly because we want so badly to write and can’t.Still others are more unfortunate, seeking desperate methods to take the edge off.That is not to say I disagree with your method of working through the doubt and insecurity by churning out pages. Whether one chooses to do that or crawl around or remain in fetal position, depends on the severity of the case. Ultimately, it is the end product that matters, not word count or how long it took you to write the darned thing. Many of my favourite authors have suffered from WB and have still managed to pen some of the most beautiful words ever written. So there is hope for those that sometimes feel blocked.

  3. I have to say, there are, in my opinion far too many who do pretend at it. It may be considered somehow bad form or arrogant to come out and say that, but anyone who’s written for any length of time, been involved with workshops or the online writing community has encountered them. Are they the majority? No. There are some incredibly talented people out there, working hard and dealing with the round of submission and rejection.I stand by the badge of honour comment. Does that make me seem somehow superior? I don’t know. It’s an observation, and, I feel, a fairly accurate one. That’s all.I did actually state, however, that some of those I consider “real writers” (the majority) do nevertheless suffer with blocks, and as I said, I would never want to trivialise the problem. I didn’t say that the condition itself was a wannabe thing. For the record, my definition of a real writer is someone who writes. My earlier comments were aimed primarily at the kind of people who talk about writing, but sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. We all know them. Are they bad people? Of course not. But they, if anyone, trivialise the condition. To suffer with writers’ block you first have to write.As for the construction worker analogy… writing is very much like building a wall for me. Start with a firm foundation, lay on the bricks with care, keeping everything plumb and with patience and work, and numerous tea breaks, I get there. Convenient for my argument? No. That’s how it is for me. It’s methodical work. And, as I said, thinking of it in that way works for me.Maybe it would work for others?

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