Writer’s Block is Real

Writer’s Block is Real

A lot of blogs I’ve read lately boldly proclaim writer’s block is fictional. Many seem convinced it’s a figment of the imagination, an illusory hurdle writers create for themselves, adding to a road already littered with pitfalls. I believe the purpose of these posts is encouragement; to awaken us to the fact that the journey is difficult enough without piling more burden on our shoulders. But I also think the proclamation somewhat misguided. Just because writer’s block is a creation of the brain doesn’t mean its imaginary.

In my youth, I imagined writer’s block as a wall. No matter how I threw myself against that unyielding surface, it never seemed to budge. I wallowed in despair when I could not clear my block, believing in all the superstitions we writers tie to our ability to work. But as my writing skills have matured, so too has my view of what we call writer’s block. I no longer envision it as a wall, or even as a road block that needs to be circumvented.

Writer’s block is a state of mind.

I think every writer struggles with darkness from time to time. We all fear we have no skill or talent. We all wonder if the time, effort and energy we pour into our work is worthwhile. Every writer sometimes hears the whisper in the vaults of their mind asking, should I just give up? These are the tendrils of writer’s block waiting to sink their claws into our creative being and suck the life from our creativity. As is so often the case with life, little things pile on top of each other. A stressful day at work saps your strength and energy. By the time you’re free to sit down at a computer, you just can’t summon the ability to put words one after the other, or the words seem hollow, pale shadows of the vision that burns in your brain. There are so many things in life that easily interfere with our desire to write; family drama, illness, other obligations. When life snaps by like a whirlwind, it can be hard to grasp the time and energy required for creative endeavours.

People forget that writing is work. We’d all love the words to flow, like magic, from our fingers. But it rarely happens that way. Creativity requires energy and effort. Even the time we spend away from our work, lost in thought, contributes to that effort. For any number of reasons, the things that happen when we aren’t writing affect our work as much as the time we actively devote to creativity.

Writer’s block is the state of mind that interferes with our ability to be creative. A state of mind that’s easy to get stuck in because we often pass through it on our way to the creative state, or in the wake being creative. It’s that icky feeling when you sit down at the end of the day and try to imagine putting a sentence together. It’s that sinking sensation when you read over a recent scene and realize it didn’t come out half as well as you wanted it to. It’s that mid-first draft doldrum during which you hate everything you’ve written so far, and contemplate starting over. It’s that everyday stress eroding your creativity, telling you that you need to wait, asking you if it wouldn’t be better to give up.

That state of mind absolutely interferes with our ability to write. Whether it draws us toward distraction, or makes us doubt each word, it’s a barrier to that free-flowing creativity we all so love to achieve. If ‘the zone’ is the perfect state of creativity, writer’s block (or art block) is its polar opposite, the shadow we have to fight on our darkest days just to keep a project moving.

Luckily, a state of mind is much easier to fight than the wall I once imagined. Our minds are so mutable, in fact, that it’s relatively easy to convince someone that they remember something even if you made it up . As difficult as it can be to wrestle with the mind, we’re not at its mercy. We can take control. Writer’s block does not need to be the insurmountable obstacle it so often seems. Sometimes we can break it down with positive thinking techniques.

Writers are a superstitious bunch. We usually develop a pre-writing ritual. Sometimes it includes lighting a candle, making a cup of tea or turning off all your distractions. I’ve even taking to doing my yoga just before I settle down to write, so that I can benefit from the state of relaxation and focus generated by the mindfulness exercises. The pre-writing ritual may be one of our best defences against writer’s block, as it trains our minds to enter the state we use for creativity on a regular basis. But while routine and discipline are great tools for staving off the shadow of writer’s block, the voice of doubt can be the most difficult to silence. Eventually the uphill battle peaks, and we all have our moments where we come head to head with the dreaded, looming blockage. That’s when the anti-creative mindset is most likely to snare us.

What to do when writer’s block rears its ugly head? In my youth, I believed I had to bide my time and allow it to pass. But this results in many wasted days. As a good friend of mine recently said; a log won’t move if you don’t move it. Much like my youthful visions, there comes a point where you have to put your butt in the chair and brute force it. You may hate every word, but the only way to drive off the shadow is to keep resolutely throwing punches.

As I strive to increase my discipline and flexibility, and settle into the routine that works best, I find that writer’s block fades into my history. It rarely rears its ugly head and, when it does, I find it easier to fight. But I have deepest sympathy for anyone who feels the wall looming. We don’t need another reason to beat ourselves for our perceived failings. Let’s not start labelling genuine feelings ‘imaginary.’ It’s much better to recognize the symptoms of the problem, so that we can apply the proper cure.

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