This article is mainly for poets, especially those who may sometimes experience a depressingly empty time in their creativity.
I have often known my poet friends to complain of "writer's block": a rather worrying condition, which, in a similar way to alopecia, can be further aggravated by simply worrying about the condition itself. Incidentally, before posting this on AuthorsDen I have checked to see what some fiction writers thought about the subject of writer's block, to ensure that I am not re-iterating anything others have said. In particular, I noticed some interesting comments in a newsletter by Gigi L. Philips (Dated: 5/14/2001 8:55:43 am) and a very good article for novelists called "The Infamous Chapter Twenty" by Toby M Heathcotte. Both of these authors had some interesting and amusing things to say, and fortunately none of my following ideas are too similar to anything they said. It was an interesting read, too. In this article, I am going to address this problem mostly in terms of how it affects poets, and suggest ways of stopping it before it gets out of control.
One of the main problems with many creative people is that they are not very organized. This is certainly the case with me. I spend half of my life trying to find something and the other half wondering where the hell it is (still, I reason to myself, if it is not in the file, it will be in the pile). With a little help, however, we can at least learn how to organize our minds, so that at least good creative ideas do not evaporate the second after they appear in our heads.
Of course, it is not as if I have never suffered from writer's block myself. In fact, I have sometimes experienced spells of inexplicable gloom, then suddenly realized that it was caused by my not having written anything in the way of poetry or fiction for a few weeks. This kind of gloom is actually one of the easiest to get rid of, with a little help from inspiration.
Inspiration can be an ephemeral, elusive phenomenon. You can't grasp it in your hands, or ever quite ensure that it will stay with you, it seems like a fair-weather friend. I am confident, however, that one can create conditions which will nurture it, and encourage it visit from time to time, bringing with it all the heady delight that comes with creating something impressive.
One good way to encourage inspiration is to carry a pen and a small notebook wherever you go. Then you can jot down any amusing incidents or snippets of conversation which might find their way into stories or poems later on. This is an exercise similar to the way artists make sketches before creating a whole painting. Think of these notes as "studies" for the bigger picture. Another good idea is to use a pen that is a sheer pleasure to use, perhaps a gel-writer rollerball, those never interrupt your creative flow by skipping or blotting, in the way that biros do (I never use biros - the very idea, quelle horreur!). But remember there is no such thing as a "lucky pen" or a "magic pen", which will always help you to write your best work. If you begin to lean on such a prop, imagine the psychological blow that will come if you ever lose such a pen, you could convince yourself that you had lost your touch simply because of the loss of your special pen.
Another important thing for poets and writers is to allow a small interval of solitude and peace each day. If you have a busy day job, try to get out to a quiet café, if only for half an hour, to have lunch and watch the world go by out of the window. If you are a busy housewife, try to allow time to sit in the garden, with pen and notebook, when the weather is fine. If you have a small child, a sand pit or paddling pool would keep a child quiet for a while, somewhere where you can keep an eye on them between writing. Time on your own can be quality time, for dreaming up ideas or even half-ideas which can be fleshed out later.
Keep a notebook by the bed and write down your dreams. This may sound like a kind of "hippie-trippy" practise, but dreams are interesting. Some of my own dreams have been like complete stories, making me feel like an actress in a play - narrative dreams like that are worth writing down, even frightening dreams can have their uses in horror fiction or dark poetry.
Many of my ideas for poems occur from a single phrase that appears in my head and remains there for a few weeks, repeating itself from time to time - then I know it will eventually become a poem. So I try to write down these odd phrases. For example the words "in search of angels" became a poem title, which rattled around in my head for a few weeks, until one day the whole poem arrived, in an old-fashioned rhyming style, starting with the words:
Upon some past and distant day
I thought I heard love's music play
saw Dante's angels rise and fall
and Babel crumbling through it all.
Communication was breaking down
in country, continent and town
and whither did the angels fly
when tongues of fire passed us by?
...Three more stanzas arrived in my head after this one, almost as if the whole thing was being dictated. This does not happen very often. It is hard to fathom out where such an instantaneous idea comes from, perhaps sometimes we compose entire poems in our sleep, then the whole thing comes back at once, in memory, the following day. Or perhaps ghosts can sometimes dictate to us - an interesting idea, but not very reliable as a source of inspiration.
Sometimes the conditions of your lifestyle may make it seem impossible to be creative in peace. Take my earlier example of the busy, hectic job. In that situation, why not turn it to your creative advantage - use your poetry to vent a little, write a few stanzas about your horrible manager or the annoying secretary who always hogs the photocopier to collate hundreds of leaflets for her horrible manager. A poem like that can turn into an amusing piece of satire, and does not have to use any real-life names. It can be your quiet revenge on the people who put a crimp in your working day. And just think, if you become very successful as a poet, you will never have to work with any annoying people again, as writers work from home.
One of my best poet friends is strangely prone to writer's block from time to time, which is a great shame, as he is a very talented poet, he can make words positively scintillate with the way he combines them in his work. He has written thousands of poems over his lifetime, yet he still worries that he is not writing enough from week to week. Even though, with his overall output, this hardly matters, what he does is far better than some poets I've seen, who feel that they must churn out poems every day and put them on a web page, regardless of whether such poems represent the best of their work. It is far better to be a perfectionist and be aware that creative inspiration does not work like a factory production line. One should remember, most importantly of all, that a very good idea is worth waiting for. In that sense, writers' block is actually a healthy thing. It is nature's way of telling us not to proliferate bland pieces of work.
So the ideas will not come?
So chill for a while.
You will come out of it looking cool and smelling of a rose by another name.