Monday, December 7, 2015

When writer's block is real...

Over the years I have several times declared my belief that I don't believe in writer's block. Partly, secretly, this was kind of a defense mechanism - if I don't believe it to be true, it won't be. And partly writer's block seemed to be just another name for being stuck - my idea isn't working, I can't get a good idea I like, this part of the story isn't working, I've taken a wrong turn in the story and I'm not sure where I got lost, this part of the story is flaccid, boring, cliched. The cure was time away and maybe a freshening or restocking of thinking by going to movies, spending time with friends and family, reading other peoples books, looking at art and nature and so on. Things would fall back in to place and I would move on. Not so much a writer's block as a writer's hiccup, or stall. And this is how I viewed it and talked about it.

It wasn't just me. There have been plenty of other writers, famous (Neil Gaiman) and not famous, who have agreed with this view. There are blog posts and articles to be found all over the internet that discuss writer's block in exactly these terms. Don't worry, they say. It's not real. You are just stuck. It will pass.

I was wrong.

Unfortunately writer's block is real. I don't think it's terribly common. But if you ever experience this you have my complete and utter sympathy. Generally I think people who go through it or have it, don't talk about it. It is pretty frightening. When you are in the middle of it, the fear that you may never come out the other side is unspeakable. Giving voice to that is an admission no writer really wants to make. And sympathy can't fix it. I have only ever seen one blog post on this by Nicola Morgan some years back. It made for difficult reading. And now I've felt it for myself. And I am only mentioning it because I seem to be on the other side of it and I can look back on it with something almost (but not quite) approaching objectivity. And I think if you have felt it, are feeling it, you might want to know that you are not alone. And that it is possible to get beyond it.

So what is it? Writer's block isn't a stall or a hiccup. It's not being stuck, or frustrated with where things are at. It's not struggling to find the right words or ideas. It's a big fat creative nothing. A complete absence of creativity. If you are like me, you feel that being a writer is who you are, not what you do. And in being a writer, in being unable to imagine life without the impulse to write, to be 'blocked' is a form of paralysis. A functioning part of you ceases to work at all, and no amount of desire or effort or will can fix it. You might feel like your writing ability is gone. And that it may not come back.

Why does it happen? I don't know. But I'd say things like frustration, disappointment, and grief can contribute. Maybe. Or stress. And doubt. Or hay-fever. Or the shit state of the world. Or being in a month with the letter e in it. I don't think it's necessarily depression because it was isolated to my writing. I could laugh about plenty of other things and enjoy hanging out with family and friends. I could get out of bed in the morning and manage everything else like usual. This is not to say that depression isn't a factor for some people. Or maybe it's just a really weird specific kind. For whatever reason, your creativity is switched right off. And if you have not experienced this, it is hard to imagine. Which is why in the past I pooh-poohed the idea. But I get it now. And I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But I do believe it is possible to get through it.

So how did I get through it? No idea. I honestly thought my writing days were over. It was unpleasant (understatement) and I wondered what I would 'do' instead. I didn't talk to writer friends about it because they were still writing and I couldn't do that. When you have no idea how you got there, there are no easy solutions. I tried to be kind to myself. I treated and indulged myself - reading, going to movies and doing some binge watching of some favourite tv series. I tried to not think about the long term consequences of being uncreative. I tried hard not to be anxious about it, and to relax. I tried to be hopeful. I hung out with the people I love. And then one day I wrote something. I'm still sluggish. My creativity is like a deer that I don't want to startle or scare away, so I am hanging back and not making any sudden movements. How long will it last? How long is a piece of string? And I don't think there are any guarantees. But I think, while it feels like your creativity has disappeared or died, it is still there inside you, locked away. And whatever unknowable magic has allowed us access before, is capable of doing it again. I choose to always remain hopeful.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

You are definitely right!