The bane of most writers’ existences is the fear of the dreaded block. In my earliest years of writing – when I ideas and stories oozing from my pores and absolutely no real understanding of the business – I truthfully didn’t believe in writer’s block. I attributed it to laziness or procrastination. Then at the beginning of the second year of my MFA program, it hit that proverbial wall myself.
And it wasn’t just a block, it was a freaking barricade.
My first reaction was panic. That did wonders to help me, let me tell you. My second reaction was denial: “This isn’t real. I’m just making this up. It’s all in my head.” And ultimately came that undeniable acceptance: “I have writer’s block.”
Since that time I have made writer’s block one of my official areas of continuing eduction.
Writer’s block is not necessarily an excuse, though I know a few writers who use it for sympathy purposes. One local writer has raised using writer’s block, and various other mental health issues, as an excuse to a high art. There are those writers who would rather try to produce sympathy in others rather than to produce actual work. Them I can’t really help. I’m not sure anyone besides a really good, really expensive psychiatrist could.
For those who have suffered from a form artistic blockage, rest assured that what you’re experiencing is real, and there are proactive things you can do to help yourself recover.
From what I can tell, each person who suffers a form of writer’s block (and this applies to artists of all varieties, not just writers) has his or her own unique version of the experience. For me, it was literally painful. I suffered severe headaches, I would tremble so fiercely just sitting down to the keyboard that I could not actually type anything, and I would become physically ill by simply looking at a blank screen and feeling that I had to fill it.
After just a few weeks of this experience, I decided it was time to take the bull by the horns, so to speak. I began researching everything I could on writer’s block. I read tons of books on brain function and brain activity; I found works on creativity and researched the various philosophies on its source. I tried using a variety of methods said to “cure” writer’s block. By the end of a month of being blocked, I still couldn’t even write an email.
A quick note of clarification here: I know that many people have studied Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and have found it helpful. Good. If it works for you, that’s all that really matters in the end. For me, it made things worse. Trying to get up earlier in the morning (I am NOT, I repeat NOT, a morning person), and scribble long hand for a designated amount of time for two or three weeks made me feel as if something was terribly wrong with me for not seeing the astounding wisdom and dramatic improvement that should have come with the exercise. I gave up, but I substituted other activities instead.
For one, I began playing with dodecahedrons – 12 sided dice with unique and inspiring things written on each face of the dice. There are patterns for making these all over the web, but also in Roger von Oech’s book “A Whack on the Side of the Head.” I continue to use this one, though I have to make new dice periodically because I wear them out after time. I use self-guided meditation, too. More on this later. I play word games, I collect oddball words from dictionaries, and I make up my own games with words. For example, I have bits of paper with different words written on them. They are divided between envelopes and sorted by nouns, verbs, and adjectives. When I’m feeling stuck, or need to loosen up, I pick one word from each envelope and try to write a sentence. A recent example:
Noun = iceberg Verb = cycling Adjective = muggy
Sentence = As she cycled along the Alaskan path, Shella spotted the iceberg in the distant waters and instantly longed for the muggy streets of San Francisco.
Will I use this somewhere? Probably not, but having felt blocked for nearly a month, being able to produce a sentence like this made me feel that I could bravely face the blank screen again.
The key to overcoming writer’s block is small steps. Telling your self that you absolutely MUST finish that novel when you are blocked is going to make the matter far worse. Start with words. From words, move to sentences. From sentences, progress to paragraphs. In time, one paragraph will connect to another, then another, etc.
I’m revisiting some of these activities, not so much because I’m blocked, but because I believe they will give me the added boost I seem to need at the moment. So here are just a few suggestions – look for more in the coming days.