Writers' Block - A New Perspective!
(Part 5 of 9)
I have frequently been asked how I cope with writers' block, and realised how smug it must have sounded for me to reply "I'll tell you when it happens." I certainly was not being smug or trying to sound a 'smart-ass', and it has made me think about just what is meant by writers' block.
If I am correct in my general interpretations, the person asking the question is really saying "I want to write, but just can't seem to think what to put down on paper. So what can I do about it?" On reflection, the first question I really have to ask is this; "Do you HAVE to write?" By that I mean 'is the writer with this problem under obligation to write to a deadline for a specific purpose'? Often as not, the person asking me this question goes on to explain that they are trying to write a poem, a piece of prose or a short story and, in fact, it is for their 'personal enjoyment'.
I suppose because I write for that reason AND, as a columnist, write because I have to, with deadlines in mind, my interpretation of block is different. When it comes to writing purely out of my own choice, I write when I feel like writing. Some times I don't feel like writing, and then it is very simple... I don't!! This, in itself, may seem a very simple answer, but opens up some possible solutions.
On further discussion and exploring the problem with someone who does not HAVE to write, a number of factors often rise to the surface which may be the cause or, at very least, the compounding and contributing factors. Guilt and frustration! A number of those who have discussed this with me, let slip that they actually feet 'guilty' if they can't write when they want to, or if not guilt, then failure.
The question then becomes one of 'psychology' - what is it that is causing feelings of guilt or failure!? It was then I was horrified to actually be told that it is the likes of me who gives the impression some can write at a drop of a hat, which makes them feel a failure or guilty that they cannot. My first reaction is to want to suggest that they should not see themselves in competition. It is quite clear that some find writing a far easier thing to do than others, and that those who find it easier (I include myself) should be more 'sensitive' and considerate towards those who do struggle at times! However, there are still those who see it as 'failing themselves' if they cannot write by 'self-demand'.
The truth is I simply don't subject myself to 'masochism'. I can think of no earthly reason why I should force myself to sit down and try and compose any form of writing if the mood does not take me! Perhaps if I tried it and, no doubt, found no inspiration, I could be 'accused' of experiencing writers' block. I am sure I would find this as frustrating as trying to make myself sing a very cheerful song, full of gusto, when I feel extremely upset about some misfortune. And in the attempt of trying to force myself to sing cheerfully, it would simply compound my self-awareness of feeling pretty damn miserable, now compounded with frustration!!
At the time one feels terribly depressed, part of that misery is the belief one will never feel happy again! Even rationally reasoning "I know this 'misery' is transient," and "Trying to sing cheerfully will create cheerfulness," does not dispel the feeling. No doubt I will now have twenty readers all responding with "Singing cheerfully dispels all misery.." If so, I have chosen a poor analogy. However, the points I am trying to make are these: If forcing yourself to sit at a blank piece of paper, or PC screen, causes you frustration, unless you make the decision to be kind on yourself and walk away, you will probably compound the situation. The next stage being 'Oh my God!!! What if I can never write again - I've lost it!"
What also does not help is the 'fanatic writers brigade' type, who attends every workshop and convention (on-line and off-line), purchases and reads, cover-to-cover, every 'How to Write" book, and eats-sleeps-drinks writing, writing, writing ! Doing these things for one's own pleasure is fine, but those who do it with a 'zealous and pious' fanaticism - that I find a little disturbing. Those of my closer friends will tell you there is a lot more to my life and more to my conversations than writing! Yes, I am a professional writer, and so it is not unreasonable that it is high on my list of things I do and talk about. No, I am not on, and refuse to go on a crusade, hoping to persuade everyone, who enjoys writing, to aspire to 'Writer-Gurus'. Those few I have met who consider themselves 'Gurus', for the most part are bores and, often as not, full of BS (Boring Script). The best writers I have met and also enjoy being in the company of, professional and hobbyists alike, are normally fun to be with, often enthusiastic and passionate about many things. Most of all, though, they write because it is 'enjoyable'.
I am not suggesting for one minute that workshops, conventions, books, etc. are not valuable. I become wary of those for whom it is an 'obsession', often amounting to nothing more than learning mechanical analysis and application - worse still insidiously extinguishing all sense of 'enjoyment', emotion and creativity.
Yes, there are 'exercises' and suggestions to overcome writers' block, but as yet I have not found anything better than switching off the PC, putting the blank paper in a drawer and walking away to do something else. Something which will relax and unwind that stressed, frustrated feeling that runs the danger of becoming panic and paranoia! That is how some extreme cases of writers' block have been described to me.
Ironically, the journalists and other 'media' I have mixed with, have never admitted they suffer from writers' block when it comes to meeting deadlines for their daily, weekly or monthly articles or columns. Maybe we are a different 'breed', or maybe we have not subjected ourselves to self-imposed writers' block during our 'leisure-time'. Sure, many of us work very close (some editors will say too close for comfort) to deadlines, and often have the subject-material defined for us. But when you have the choice of 'being kind' to yourself, the choice to 'walk away' because you are 'not in the mood to write', and can 'lighten up' on yourself, in my humble opinion, it's a good choice to make.
Copyright David Taub (UKpoet.aol.com), 1999
First written for Internet poetry magazine: Issue 5, 1999
Due to appear as a series in "Florida Palm" (Florida Writers' Association – membership magazine), 2002
David Taub is a member of
The British organisation 'National Union of Journalists' (NUJ);
The Florida Writers' Association;
Columnist for the UK magazine 'Poetry Now';
Freelance writer for various UK and USA magazines;
Co-author of Language of Souls (listed on amazon.com)