Updated: Feb 1, 2020
WRITER'S BLOCK- The condition of being unable to create a piece of written work because something in your mind prevents you from doing it.
- Cambridge Dictionary
The bane of any author's existence is the dreaded WRITER'S BLOCK. Being a musician and artist as well as an author, I have come to realize that the block is definitely not exclusive to writers. In fact, I have found myself blocked at some point in every creative process. I think that a far more accurate term for this ailment would be creative block. Many of my peers have explained that they are completely prohibited from generating any creative thoughts or energy while in the throws of the dreaded block. For myself and many others, quite the opposite holds true. So many ideas form in my mind at one time that my brain struggles with putting them into any useful format. These are usually the nights when my big, comfy bed proves inadequate at putting my body to sleep. An onslaught of random unrelated thoughts catch me as soon as my previously weary head touches the pillow. My precious sleep hides among these thoughts . . . playing hide and seek as it were. Let's take a gander at this blocked situation and see if we can lay out some solutions for all you beautiful writers out there.
My first notion for this post was to research the earliest documented cases of writers dealing with being creatively blocked. While reading about early authors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge enlightened me in other aspects, it provided little if any insight for overcoming this obstacle. In fact, the early writers that I studied were typically as baffled then as we are today. First of all, early societies held the art of writing in such high regard that only royalty, aristocrats, and public figures were allowed to wield it. Average citizens were too immersed in work and the art of survival to concern themselves with such lofty pursuits. Writers of that day were thought to be in the company of angels or inspired by a divine hand when writing. When blocks occurred, the cause was believed to be that they had somehow offended or angered their heavenly companions. To resolve what they felt was a spiritual dilemma, they turned to spiritual solutions. They often sought the advice and assistance of spiritual consults like clergy, mediums, or gypsies. Having a writing spirit most assuredly plays a role in being able to write, but I soon decided that we would benefit more if I researched any science involved with causes of writer's block.
The term writer's block was actually credited to Dr. Edmund Bergler in 1947. In 1950, Bergler published a paper titled, "Does Writer's Block Exist?" The good doctor and many of his followers blamed this obstruction on a very wide ranging number of causes, from lack of sleep to not being breast-fed as a child. The American Journal of Neuroradiology in their article "Writer's Block" state, "Stress leads to panic and some scientists believe that the reticular activating system in the brain stem will shift higher functions associated with writing from the cortex to the limbic system under duress. Others disagree and think that the creative writing process starts at the level of the limbic system, whereas more technical writing is initially fueled by the frontal cortex. If both were true, all writing would stop as functions shift from one location to the other." We can be blocked in one area and still able to write in another. For instance, I have found myself hopelessly blocked while trying to advance my work in progress to the next chapter, but have absolutely no difficulty completing an English homework assignment. Merriam Webster defines agraphia as the pathologic loss of the ability to write. The AJNR says that, "Agraphia results from damage to the Wernicke Area and is nearly always accompanied by other language disabilities. In some cases, the inability to write may be physical, such as so-called "writer's cramp." This is a muscle dystonia, and DTI has shown fractional anisotropy changes in fibers connecting the primary sensory-motor areas with subcortical structures in individuals who suffer from it. In such individuals, FMRI has shown abnormally low activation of the sensory-motor cortex and supplementary motor areas. The findings of these studies imply that both inhibitory and excitatory mechanisms play a role in writer's cramp and that the pain it causes prevents writing by hand. Writer's cramp can also develop during typing and other activities such as utilizing a screwdriver. Compared with men, women are thought to be better writers; however FMRI, does not show significant differences in brain activation for either sex while writing. The same study found significant differences between good and poor writers while handwriting, mostly in brain regions involved with planning for serial finger movements. Along with not being gender specific, the obstruction crosses all cultures and languages. The most severe cases of writing disorders have been linked to underlying psychiatric disorders like anxiety and schizophrenia. Cases this serious usually require the help of professionals to overcome.
The very nature of the creative process is based on the fact that in its purest form it is unchained; uncontrolled. So the block tends to transcend structure. This is why there is no absolute cure. We transcend the norm when we engage in the creative writing process. So kudos to you for being authors . . . published or not! Just take a second to consider how many of your friends and family don't even read or write unless it is assigned to them by some outside entity. Writing takes physical, mental and spiritual exertion. So it is reasonable that it will take a combination of devices to deal with it.
Now let's take a look at some of the tools that writers have found useful at dealing with writer's block.
FREE-WRITING - This has to be the tool that has been most frequently suggested for effectively traversing the dreaded block. The object of free-writing is to write without ceasing for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. With this exercise the emphasis is not on structure, punctuation, or even forming complete sentences. In fact, eliminating the need to subliminally or consciously worry about such restraints is one of the goals of the free-writing tool. This added pressure could very easily be the cause of writer's block. Our brains go through a set of mental processes each time we begin to write. There are also physical processes that are indelibly interlocked to these mental aspects in creative endeavors. Perhaps engaging the physical aspects will ignite the mental processes. On a freezing morning we don't crank up our automobiles and immediately storm out onto the highway. Well maybe some do, but this would likely leave the vehicle running sluggish and definitely not operating at its optimum level. The smart thing to do is to start the car and allow it to warm up thoroughly before driving it. Free-writing warms up our writing engines and allows us to write at our optimum levels.
REJUVENATION - writing, like any mental or physical exertion, will leave your body and your all-powerful brain fatigued . . . if we are doing enough of it. Allowing our physical bodies to thoroughly rest is an often overlooked or neglected treatment for being blocked. The mind will take a break if it feels it is under duress. This is a component of our self-preservation system. When writing for long periods, I inevitably experience burning eyes and pain or numbness in my wrists and fingers. My drive and desire to complete my project and not to be a slacker has caused me to ignore such obvious signs of fatigue. Just as your body will eventually shutdown if constantly deprived of adequate rest, so too will your mind. Many of my friends and colleagues have encouraged me to establish a writing schedule. At first this proved to be next to impossible. My daily schedule was a relentless gauntlet of obligations and attempts at acquiring sufficient rest between them. I later found that scheduling my writing time allowed me to better control the minute details of my writing ritual. I was able to select times when I've had maximum rest and minimum distractions. This allowed me to write at peak proficiency. After this, I could focus on my writing environment. I truly believe that the more relaxed we are, the better we write. Our creative minds thrive in certain environments that are unique to the writer. I'm most relaxed when I have incense and candles burning with jazz or reggae music playing in the background. I recreate this setting whenever I begin to feel a pending onset of the dreaded block. Initially I held onto the notion that in order for anyone's mind to be as relaxed as possible meant that they needed to be in quiet, sublime surroundings. Later, while chatting with one of my military friends (who is also an author), I found this to be incorrect. He confessed to me that when things got too quiet around him, he found it a chore trying to focus on writing. He added that he discovered that only when his home was filled with the laughter and activity of his children was his mind at peace enough to write effectively. This intrigued me and I was driven to know why. He explained that in his subconscious mind he found himself worrying about his children when they were not with him. Having them there together in the safety of his house eliminated those worries and this relaxed him. Once relaxed, he could again write. Upon hearing this testimony, I knew for certain that the causes of writer's block could be any unlimited combination of factors. Self-examination and self-reflection are key to finding, studying, and improving our writing styles and environments.
*Prioritize - designate or treat (something) as more important than other things. 2) determine the order for dealing with (a series of items or tasks) according to their relative importance.
PRIORITIZING - Getting things done must be indelibly branded into the fabric of our every-day existence. Reaching our goals allows us to move smoothly along to our next task. In addition, this eliminates unnecessary anxiety and stress. Humans have a natural tendency to multi-task, even though many studies have shown that it is neither efficient nor effective at making us more productive. Multitasking in fact has been shown to cause losses in speed, accuracy and focus. It has been shown that switching our attention between each separate activity forces our focus to be divided between each activity. This means that only only a portion of our focus switches to the new task as we go back and forth between them. The time it takes our brains to re-orientate to each new task becomes loss time and negatively affects our productivity. This is where prioritizing becomes such a dynamic and useful tool. The method is to assign a level of importance to all of our tasks; the goals we set to reach our mental, physical, and spiritual expectations. Here we find a chance to evaluate and decide just where writing fits into the schedule of day-to-day obligations. This process maximizes potential because it transforms the art of writing into an existential component of our forward motion and self-improvement. I implore each of your to prioritize your lives, complete your tasks in succession, surround yourself with the instruments of writing (including the human instruments) and ensure that your scheduled writing is among the tasks that you complete daily.
Application - the act of putting something into operation.
APPLICATION - At our essence we are writers! Come to grip with this fact and do what writers do . . . write. Write relentlessly. Write as if your very existence depends on it. If you find that your are unable to work on your WIP, then write a letter to a close friend or family member. Send out post cards. You may be surprised to discover how intertwined writing and emotion really are. At times the response you get back after performing an unexpected act of kindness is enough to spark the fires beneath the cooling pot of creative juices. We are not average . . . we are authors! We crave a human connection that transcends the physical. An intimate and intense connection to our readers, our higher selves, other writers and if we are blessed, our future readers. We are as connected to each other as we are to our bloodline and love lines. As writers we are our own support groups, critics, consumers and above all family. our divine blessing and gift burdens us with the extraordinary task of enhancing, enlightening and entertaining the masses. The greatest of us never shy away from this. Together we can bring beauty and humanity back to the forefront . . . ahead of greed, hate and pain. Together we are more powerful than we will ever be apart. I believe in you. Please believe in me. If not then believe in my belief in you. Writers should surround themselves with other writers at every opportunity. I have clung to this concept since the age of remembering. Like all manner of living things, our species thrives when our numbers are growing and we protect and feed each other. Networking is key! Such an immeasurable quantity of information lies spread among us, that if we ever could see the day when we truly networked we could change the spiritual flow of the entire world. Well today is that day! POWER UP!
Intelligence is ongoing, individual adaptability. Adaptations that an intelligent species may make in a single generation, other species make over many generations of selective breeding and selective dying. Yet intelligence is demanding. If it is misdirected by accident or by intent, it can foster its own orgies of breeding and dying.
— Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)