I have recently made a ritual of meeting with my computer every night, in the anticipation of putting something on to that numbingly blank Word page. Most nights however, I wind up our tête-à-tête with growing disappointment.
Like many things in life, I’ve never sought an acquaintance with writer’s block, but the damn thing is now a staple, and time—that goon— stubbornly refuses to reverse itself.
The “creative block” has happened to almost every writer at least once in their lifetime. There is a reason why Neil Gaiman found writing to be “a very peculiar sort of job” and Stephan King wrote, “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will”. I believe that writers are blessed with the ability to listen to an inner voice and then to subsequently convert that voice into words, making it accessible to the world. The likely notion of never being able to come up with another word is terrifying — often to the brink of paranoia.
S.T. Coleridge, on his 32nd birthday wrote (largely to himself), “Yesterday was my birthday. So completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month! O Sorrow and Shame — I have done nothing!”
Some say that the extended writer’s block most writers swear to have gone through at some point may be nothing more than a product of self-doubt. It was Sylvia Plath who wrote that “the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” The amount of angst a writer experiences when alone with nothing but a computer’s keyboard to communicate with is inexplicable. Add to that the misery of uncertainty and you have a blocked mind. As observed by Pulitzer award winner Norman Mailer, writer’s block is nothing but the failure of ego. The feeling of self-doubt will only affect those who feel that their work is somehow lesser than the work of others, those who stop taking pride in what they do. Having a considerable amount of self-confidence in whatever a person creates, seems vital for being able to proudly present the end result to the world. To listen to that inner voice and translate it into language is something that requires effort, stamina and to a large extent, bravery.
Then there are those contemporary writers who believe that writer’s block is a self-created concept, invented by writers who are plainly incapable of handling the huge responsibility that comes with being a writer. This includes bestselling authors like Terry Pratchett, whose famous line, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write” made waves when first spoken. These writers incessantly argue that you’re either blessed with the gift of writing or you’re not and that there is no such thing as simply forgetting how to give words to your “voice”.
Such is the paradox of man’s creative process.
Whether writer’s block exists or doesn’t, whether it ought to be given more credence or not, the truth is most writers have been plagued with this dilemma ever since the first word was written. Somehow a mere incapacity to write cannot suffice as the only possible explanation. As for me, I believe that after a while your voice just plain abandons you and gets mauled by the thousands of “others” around it that always seem mightier than your own.
But I do not like being in this state of helplessness — it leads first to anxiety and then eventually to despair, from where there is seldom any return. One thing is certain, it will not stop me from continuing these meetings with my computer, however unproductive they might seem. I am quite sure that someday the words will start to flow. They just have to.
Perseverance, they say, is one of the best natural remedies for writer’s block. I think that will have to be my answer, if only for the moment.
— This piece was originally published in The Missing Slate’s Web Issue http://themissingslate.com/2012/08/27/in-pursuit-of-words/