Analysing Writer’s Block: Could the cause reveal the solution?
“Inspiration comes very slowly and quietly. Say that you want to write. Well, not much will come to you the first day. Perhaps nothing at all. You will sit before your typewriter or paper and look out of the window and begin to brush your hair absentmindedly for an hour or two. Never mind. That is all right. That is as it should be—though, you must sit before your typewriter just the same and know, in this dreamy time, that you are going to write, to tell something on paper, sooner or later. And you also must know that you are going to sit here tomorrow for a while, and the next day and so on, forever and ever.”
—Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write
A writer’s block, in the simplest terms, could be described as a condition when you want to write but cannot. Though Philip Pullman says, “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expect sympathy for it?”, I don’t agree with him. According to me, writer’s block does exist and it arises from two places: either the heart or mind. Depending on the place it arises from, you can find a cure for it.
Whenever a person sets out to do any creative work that rejects immediate gratification and will bring in long-term growth, Steven Pressfield says in ‘The War of Art’, the negative repelling force of ‘Resistance’ will be immediately elicited from within that person. The only way to overcome that, he says, is to turn into a professional—like the person who goes to an office to earn his livelihood no matter what—and do your work whether you feel motivated or not.
The moment a person sets out to be a writer, they get drained out of ideas, feel sick and fall prey to mysterious aches and depressing thoughts. That is resistance—or a heart block, according to me—and is pretty similar to what you feel after you break up with your lover; you want to get back to them but something keeps pulling you away. Learn to recognise this block.
‘You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.’ —John Rogers
As Rogers suggests, the only way out of this kind of a block is to just sit and write. Write anything. Don’t bind yourself to write great words and profound truths.
Just get into the discipline of writing every day.
“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.”
― Lili St. Crow
I have found out that there are three things that help me to keep spinning out words—
- Having a writing schedule
An office job is from 9 am to 5 pm. Come what may, the employee is at his desk during those hours. A schedule similar to that could be the best way to keep writer’s block away. It is alright even if you decide to incorporate just an hour of writing into your schedule. Just stick to the hour and be disciplined and dedicated to your promise. That hour should not be spent browsing the internet for research or chatting with Facebook friends to promote your book. That hour is for writing whether you feel inspired or not. This is exactly what Maya Angelou suggests too.
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”
- Deciding on a to-do list
The most daunting task is to face the blank white paper or screen. When you have a to-do list that states the projects you are going to tackle that day, the task gets a bit more manageable.
- Working on multiple projects
The late Isaac Asimov is the best role model for a productive writer. He wrote 435 books, making him one of the most prolific authors of all time. Asimov stated that his secret for such a humongous output was: “I never get Writer’s Block because I have multiple projects on my to-do list. So when I get tired or get stuck on Project A, I simply move to Project B.”
Sometimes, writers’ block could also be caused by certain other factors. These are factors inherent in the project and they don’t stem from you. This is not the simple case of procrastination or lack of motivation. An analysis into the causes, in this situation, shows that these causes themselves hold the key to breaking out of writers’ block. Let us analyse a few of them below:
- Lack of ideas
Where does a writer get his ideas from? Life!
What is one thing a writer loses when he gets deeper into his writing? Life!
When a writer is imprisoned to his desk for too long, he does tend to run out of ideas. In that situation, the best cure for writer’s block would be to get away from the desk for some time. Just like how you discipline yourself to write every day, discipline yourself to exercise, walk around and daydream every day too.
- Stuck in the story
At other times, you love the story you are narrating. Everything is flowing well till you suddenly bang into a wall. You just cannot go further. Hilary Mantel and Neil Gaiman give ideas on how you can get out of a rut.
“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.”
‘Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.’
- Chasing the Big Monster of Perfection
Another dragon that terrorises writers is the expectation that their writing needs to be perfect.
Writing is rewriting. What you are penning down is just the first draft.
There is a long way to go till you reach your finished draft. Keep telling yourself that and you can scare the monster of perfection away.