A deliberately provocative title to the first in a series of rambling thought salads upon the blight affecting my creative pursuits for the last several months.
Let me say first, unequivocally, writer’s block is a myth.
And now to qualify that… There is no single catch-all affliction that infects only writers to the same extent across the board. You don’t one day wake up with a gritty throat, sneeze a couple of times and then find yourself unable to write a single word. There is always a (or many) deeper reason(s)for such a state to occur.
Being able to even write about this at the moment is some proof positive that I’m coming out the other side of a long self-imposed exile in a barren country. I’ve even begun writing a new short story (inspired in part by a useful prompt competition my writing group has been holding for a while now), but I still haven’t found that motivational balance required to stay on course. At this very moment my short story and I are circling each other around the room, maintaining a respectful distance, but all too aware that we have to tussle at some point.
So, I hear you ask, what are the reasons for this lengthy period of inactivity?
The reasons are manifold, and therein lies the problem of calling it writer’s block. It seems too easy to pass off a period of creative self-obstruction as ‘writer’s block’. And yes, it is ‘self’ imposed. There’s no masked lunatic holding a bowie knife to my trembling throat saying “write and you will die.” There’s no one other than myself sat in front of the computer with a document open. It’s my fingers that need to do the typing. And it really should be that simple. If you spend your entire waking existence thinking about writing, but aren’t doing it, then the only way to make it happen is… to write. As all of the various advice tells you, sometimes you have to allow yourself to write pages and pages of tripe so that the good stuff can emerge without you really noticing it.
For me, it’s been partly a dreadful penchant for self-critique where I might as well be whipping myself with rusty chains for not being able to make every sentence a perfect sculpture of meaning and form. Throw in several sacks of self-doubt where I compare myself to other writers and think I have nothing interesting to say or offer in the way of narrative voice. Sprinkle on some dayjob-tiredness and laziness in the face of breaking out of a routine of work/sleep/work/sleep/weekend/escape!/sleep/work etc… Finish with a propensity to avoid the hard work of writing – the edits, the rewriting, the tough decisions about when to trunk old stories, the colossal leaps involved in taking a good idea and turning it into a novel.
That’s just one recipe, and only a handful of the total ingredients in my own particular spaghetti of creative blockage. At first it’s easier to drift along and not write, stating that you need a break from it, but soon the not writing becomes harder than existing and it’s all you think about. Days, weeks, months pass and with every additional minute you aren’t writing it becomes harder and harder to start again, because like any creative pursuit you must practice and flex that muscle of craft. Go too long and watch your muscles atrophy so that the first time you do return to the writing, it might be not all that bad, but it’s like passing kidney stones and your ability to believe in it is fractured.
Becoming creatively blocked is such a personal thing and many people have their own advice for dragging yourself out of it, but it’s always down to you at the end of it all. You have to force yourself somehow to sit down, focus, and just write. I still don’t believe in writer’s block as an actual ‘thing’ that can be beaten if you only follow a particular course of treatment. It’s a war with your own impulses and identifying the source of the problem is often the main thing to accomplish, because it may be something much deeper and more all-encompassing in your own life that’s causing it. And before you know it, the feeling of being unable to complete anything, or even write a single word, is all wound up inside you like an invasive weed and you can cut it away, tug out the roots, pour weed-killer upon it, but it may be impossible to remove it all entirely.
I’ll write more upon this subject, and probably disagree with myself. Maybe even get into a bloody fistfight with my id and throw myself down a few flights of stairs. Anything except just punching some keys on a keyboard and forming the mystical hieroglyphics that make up simple words.