Until very recently, I was an unbeliever. I’m not talking about religion or magic or the supernatural – I’m talking about writers’ block. If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said there was no such thing. I thought it was all a figment of the imagination.
Then it came for me.
In some ways, I stand by what I said: it is all in the mind. But: ‘Of course it’s all in your head. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.’ (Thanks, Dumbledore.)
The way I see it, there are two types of writers’ block, each with their own different cure.
The Easy Type
I’ve met so many people who tell me they have trouble writing. When I ask them how often they write, the answer is often something along the lines of: ‘I’m not writing at the moment, I’m looking for inspiration.’
‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’ – Pablo Picasso
Here’s the thing: writing is hard. You’re reaching into the mysterious parts of your soul, pulling out what you find and attempting to wrestle it onto a page. You’re pulling something fragile out into the open. Naturally, the body tries to put up defences.
‘The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.’ – William Goldman
Writing can be mentally and emotionally draining. It’s so much easier to check facebook, or binge watch a TV show, or do the dishes, or check our emails, or cook an elaborate dinner, or any of the other things we do to avoid actually sitting down and writing.
This procrastination can be a manifestation of many things: fear of getting it wrong; laziness; taking the easy road; an uncertainty about the work; embarrassment; worry about not living up to other people’s expectations…
For all of these, there’s one very simple cure:
Make the time to sit down and write.
An hour. Two hours. Three. It’s up to you, just as long as you go to your writing space and stay there. Don’t get up and dust the top of the kitchen cupboards. Don’t tweet. Leave the list of household chores somewhere where you can’t see it.
If nothing comes, write about how you can’t think of anything to write. Repeat this routine every day, or every couple of days, as often as you can. If you turn up to work, then eventually the inspiration will as well.
The Tricky Type
What makes Type One easy to cure is that the cure is physical. You get yourself into your writing space and something will eventually turn up. Type Two is so tricky because the cure isn’t physical. It’s a purely mental battle, and that’s much harder to fight.
This is the type of writers’ block I didn’t realise existed, until about a year ago. Because sometimes, it isn’t just laziness or a fear of creating the work that blocks us. Sometimes, there’s a much deeper problem.
I’m talking about things that go beyond the work itself. Big things. Things like grief for a loved one. Anxiety. Depression. A big upheaval. Some sort of earthquake that shakes the foundation of our lives.
Something like this isn’t always a block. Sometimes, it can draw the work out of us and turn the creativity into a therapeutic process. But often, this therapeutic creativity comes later. Initially, there’s a block.
This block can’t always be solved by just turning up to the writing station. Often, solving the root problem has to come first. There’s no easy way to do that. Anyone who has ever suffered from any form of mental health issue will know that it’s a complicated process – one that takes time and patience and a lot of self-acceptance – and that ‘solving’ is often a misnomer anyway.
And often, once the root problem is addressed, or at least accepted, the writing will start to flow again. Not always, but for me, this can help. (Of course, at this stage, you still need to turn up to the desk…)
Good luck, and happy writing!