Writer’s Block

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Writer’s Block

Every day, well, almost every day, I meet people who tell me that they cannot write anymore. They have abandoned their current project. They sit in their work space and stare at blank screens or empty walls. They have come face to face with the dreaded Writer’s Block.

While some consider Writer’s Block to be an actual illness, others flaunt it like a flag or a badge of honor:

“Don’t touch me — I’ve got Writer’s Block: I wouldn’t want you to catch it.”

“I’m having a bad week: I’ve got Writer’s Block.”

“Sorry, I can’t make the writer’s meeting, I’ve got Writer’s Block.”

According to Wikipedia, “Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer’s block has been a documented problem.”

We have probably all experienced the sensation of being unable to write, unable to think, unable to continue. I have found that it happens frequently in examinations with young students whose minds suddenly go blank when faced by a white page and an awkward question. This form of Writer’s Block comes at the most unfortunate times. Students need to be switched on just when their minds switch off. And something similar happens to writers.

Examination Block can be overcome. In many cases careful preparation for an exam will reduce or eliminate examination block. These preparations may well include correct pre-examination note-taking and revision procedures, no last minute all-night study the night before the exam, a good night’s sleep, proper food, water, and appropriate physical exercises before the exam starts. All these things prepare both body and mind and free the student for that most important task: the struggle with the blank page and the awkward question.

Will a set of pre-writing preparations work for Writer’s Block?

In order to answer this question, I would rather take a different approach. Instead of seeing Writer’s Block as a physical / mental presence that stops us writing, why not look at it as an absence that can be overcome.

What can we call that absence? Personally, I look upon it as an absence of creativity. If the creativity isn’t there, then writing creatively won’t happen. So what do we do?

Let us define creativity. For me, creativity is the expression of the creative principle that dwells within all of us. It is there, within us. We may suppress it or we may let it be suppressed. We may ignore it or we may deny it: but it is still there. It is always there. Sometimes it is beaten out of us; or we think it is. But it is still there, beneath the surface, waiting to be called on. The Roman poets spoke of it as Deus est in nobis … the God that dwells within us.

Creativity, for me, is like a river that vanishes underground and then reappears: it will be back.

The most important thing in my opinion is what you do when you’re not writing, what you do when you’re faced with that wall of blackness, what you do when you stare at that blank screen and nothing makes your fingers dance on the key board.

Here’s what I do. I make up my mind not to force myself to be creative. Forget about writing. Do something else. Ignore all idea of Writer’s Block, or the End of the World, or the Imminent Disaster of not being able to write. It may take a mental effort, but forget about it.

Now do something else, something positive. Different people respond to different stimuli. Here’s what I do.

(1) I read books

I read other people in their creative moments. I love reading people who write in other languages that I speak and read, because my own mind tries to recreate their images, their stories. This re-creation is a form of creation in itself. New words, new ideas, new combinations, rise to the surface of the mind, like bubbles on a river.

(2) I color and draw

As any who have seen my drawings know, I cannot draw. However, I can take a line for a walk. And that’s what I do. Then I color the spaces I create. My friends thought I was wasting my time and I believed them until I read one of Matisse’s sayings: “My ambition: to liberate color, to make it serve both as form and content.” Voilà: I have my raison d’être. Nature abhors a vacuum. When you create a space, color and meaning rush in.

(3) I take photos

The capturing of a moment: a sunset, a new bird at the feeder, deer wandering through the garden, a black bear visiting, rain on a spider web, sunlight through a prism, a cat made out of cherry stones … the re-creation of the moment is the creation of the memory. More bubbles flow on the surface of the stream.

(4) I go for a walk, look at nature and the world around me, people too

It is incredibly important to do this. A visit to the local coffee shop, a walk around the super-market or corner store, a seat in the park on a sunny day … just be, watch, relax, look and listen, empty yourself, let the world flow back in … look at the ducks on the lake or the goldfish in the tank … more bubbles on the water, more ideas floating down the stream …

(5) I listen to music

De gustibus non disputandum … we can’t argue about taste. Where music goes, to each his or her own … the music I like fills my mind, relaxes me, flows out when it ends, takes my mind for a walk and leaves … a vacuum … into which dreams and colors, words and ideas, build like clouds …

(6) I cook

Cooking has always relaxed me. Sometimes the repeating of an old recipe helps clear my mind. Sometimes I have a need to invent something new. Hands and mind occupied, the secret, sacred underground river of creativity flows on …

(7) I sew

Last summer, an unexpected event led me to join a quilting group … oh what fun … a man quilting among a dozen women … I learned so many things … so many different ways of looking at the world … so many concepts that I would never have dreamed of on my own … Sewing runs in the family: I still have my grandfather’s sewing kit … darning and sewing needles that served him for two years before the mast … that darned his socks as he survived in the trenches of the First World War … it bears his name and I use it with pride … and what memories arise in my mind as I choose the needle … his needle … the one that will lead me into the next adventure, be it quilt, button or patch …

(8) I keep a journal

… and come hell or high water, I write in it every day and have done so since 1985. That’s 31 years during which I have scarcely missed a day. The writing maybe banal, it may be nothing but a note on the weather or a comment on a sporting event … but it’s there … a vital challenge to the idea that Writer’s Block can take me over and can win. This journal is 95% drivel … maybe more … but bobbing along the stream of words are ideas, verses, rhyme schemes, choruses, stories, flashes of inspiration, jokes, memories, magic moments, falling stars, … the secret is to catch these falling stars, to recognize these rough diamonds and to return to them and polish when the moment is ripe … and it will be, sooner or later … for bubbles are buoyant and will lift you to the stars.

(9) I believe

Through all this runs a thread of belief … belief that the black cloud of despair will not win. The Writer’s Block will go. Creativity will never be not lost. It is there, beneath the surface, always ready to be contacted, waiting to rise and take you over again. And all too soon and quite unexpectedly, one form of creativity slips into another and the creative writing (it never really went away because of the journal) comes back.

Writer’s Block: it does exist. It’s how we deal with it that’s important. Creativity rules: forget Writer’s Block and let creativity and the multiple ways back to creativity grow and flow. Sooner or later the clouds will lift, the sun will return, the block will unblock and the words will flow again.

Remember the words on the Roman sundial: Horas non numero nisi serenas … I count only the happy hours. And remember: the clouds will lift, the sun will return.

Trust me.

And believe.

50 thoughts on “Writer’s Block

  1. Hi Roger, thanks so much for leaving me the link to this post. I loved it. You have the most beautiful talent of description that ignites my creativity and motivates me to get to writing. I loved where you referred to the bubbles and the river of creativity. Such a simple and moving method that got me hooked on your words and feeling happy inside. I love the way you write, it makes me feel like a younger version of myself who’s all caught up in the beauty of writing and dreaming all over again of becoming a great writer myself someday. Thanks for that ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for these lovely words and for the ping back (!). I enjoyed your post when I read it. As writers, we write in solitude; as human beings we must break out once in a while, draw sustenance from our writing groups, make friends with other writers, and realize that we are creatively different and that these differences make us what we are. The younger version of myself that writes this blog is very happy with the older version of myself that urges him on to write. The blend of age and youth, all in the same body, is a very potent one. Bless you and may you always enjoy happy and powerful writing

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  2. Hi Roger,

    Great post; writer’s Block is horrible, but as long as you can write, you can find inspiration from many different sources. Sometimes all you can do is just write and let your subconscious do the work for you as long as you have a general idea how you’re going to end a story. It’s like going on a road trip – you know where your end destination is, but allow yourself to take in the sights between Point A to Point B, and see where they take you, go on a few detours, have an adventure. Writing is all about generating new ideas and how can you create ideas without practising it? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this comment. Writing and letting the subconscious do the work is good. One of the most difficult things, I found early on, was recognizing good writing when it appeared. Now, I find the most difficult thing is to allow the writing well to fill, it will, and not to force the images and metaphors … I am talking poetry here, but it works for prose as well. Time is of the essence … we need time, not constant deadlines, to allow the ideas to filter through. So: there are two processes — (1) creating new ideas and recognizing them when they are created; and (2) giving ourselves some precious time so the ideas may gel and settle, thus forming themselves into better, more polished ideas. I love the road image A > B. Thanks for reading and replying.

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      • Thanks for the reply. I agree with you about the difficulty in finding inspiration, but if you can find ideas in most anything if you look around you. Even if an idea sounds ridiculous and shit, just jot it down because it could lead to more and turn into never-ending cycle. And this is related with your next point about recognising good ideas – it’s subjective. Keep what you like, there’ll always be someone in the world who has similar tastes to yours. 🙂

        Time is a good way to develop your ideas, however if it’s taking ages for someone to finish a project, their method’s are questionable. Inspiration is about instant enthusiasm and I find that time dampens this enthusiasm and makes you question yourself.

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      • Time is both an enemy and a friend. So many times I have revised the good poetry out only to later realize my mistake and write it back in. Juan Ramon Jimenez has a beautiful poem on this subject: “No la toques mas, asi es la rosa / Stop fiddling with it: roses are just like that.” The secret is to know what and when and that takes work, understanding, and time. And deadlines can be very valuable and instrumental in self-discovery …

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    • Thank you so much, Joanna. I have been writing for some time now and anything I can do to help other writers (within obvious limits, both intellectual and financial), I shall do. I have started posting notes from our Tuesday night writing group meetings — Wednesday Workshops … thank you for following me …

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  3. When I’m experiencing writer’s block and I find myself unable to write, I just shrug and do other stuff. I hate forcing myself to write because it just makes me hate myself. But yeah, I guess we can really do fight writer’s block, if we stay positive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Forcing myself to write” is one thing; “forcing myself to write creatively” is something else. Just putting pen to paper and describing the weather or the birds maintains the ‘discipline’ of writing: same time, same place, keep active. I agree with you totally though: no point in hating what I’m doing, or hating myself. The big things are (1) stay creative; (2) relax — and ‘shrug your shoulders and do other stuff’ — love it; (3) stay positive; and (4) believe … Thanks for commenting …

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  4. Excellent post and wonderful advice, Roger. It honors the idea that fresh inspiration comes at us from every angle. We just need to step back, breathe and experience life.

    My post tomorrow was inspired by nothing more than a little critter that ran up my leg under my pants a few days ago. It became an entire post!

    Enjoyed the read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Step back for a while, relax, breathe, and keep believing. Cervantes also gives good advice in the Quixote: “Paciencia y barajar” / Patience and shuffle the cards. I look forward to reading about that “little critter” … I have a Scottish kilt-wearing friend who heartily dislikes such things.

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  5. Thanks for this really helpful post. I went to an author reading (for a book I hated, but think the advice still holds up) and the author said keeping a daily journal was what helped her fend off writer’s block and keep at her novel. I have yet to try it, but the little note taking I do on the fly has been a great resource for grabbing ideas when I’m stumped as to what to write about next. I also like your idea of going for a walk, there’s something about getting fresh air and people watching that gets the creative juices a flowin’.

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  6. Great post Roger! Writers block definitely can be a pain. Your suggestions are perfect (especially reading in my humble opinion, that’s what always brings me out of my slump). I also find that often if I push through and keep writing I will eventually find my creativity again; albeit the work I’ve done in that time will probably need some major editing!!

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  7. Terrific post with great suggestions. I think writers’ block can happen when we do not have enough stimulation, enough material to work with, and your suggestions hit that nail on the head. But I also think, and have experienced writers’ block when my mind is overwhelmed, with emotion, with thoughts, etc. From experience, in these times – which may be extended. We need patience. We need to wait. And do crafts….

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    • Judy: you exist! You are not a figment of my imagination. I think crafts are great … quilting, sewing, cooking, gardening etc. Anything that allows the troubled mind to concentrate on something other than its troubles. The concentration needed for cooking, painting, quilting, and sewing, for example, creates a needed occupational therapy that heals. S o good to see you on here. Thanks for being here.

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