I’m never quite sure what writer’s block is. I know it refers to an inability to write, but what actually counts as writer’s block? If you sit staring at a screen for hours without writing a word, does that count? Or is that too short a time? Does it have to last at least a few days or weeks before you can call it writer’s block? And when I wasn’t writing at all between the ages of eight and twenty-four, was that writer’s block? Or was it a crisis of identity?
Aside from the question of how long it lasts, what kind of thing is writer’s block? Is it the complete inability to write a single word? Or does it mean you don’t write anything you’re remotely satisfied with? If it’s the latter, I’m in trouble – because ‘not remotely satisfied’ describes nearly every day’s work for me. But if it’s the former I’m OK because most days I manage to write something, even if it’s only a blog post. Which is why I’m so glad I have this blog, because on really bad days where I can’t string two morphemes together, I can at least manacle a blog post into position, run it up the flag and see if anyone salutes it. A blog post is usually less than 500 words; it’s achievable and, with the click of a button, it’s published and ready to read.
OH has an interesting view on overcoming writer’s block. In the same way that Michelangelo saw the sculpture as being hidden within the stone
you could regard writing as ‘taking away’ everything which is not the story. I’m not sure how cutting things away works when faced with a blank page rather than a lump of rock, but it’s worth thinking about. *
In ‘His Dark Materials’, Phillip Pullman wrote of the subtle knife which cuts windows between different worlds, ‘you may have intentions but the knife has its own intentions.’
This is an idea I try to bear in mind when writing a poem; that when writing I may have intentions, but the poem has its own intentions too. Nevertheless, the blank page can be a very intimidating thing to overcome, so when I have a bad day and think all my thoughts are worthless, I try just to write, believing that anything is better than nothing and reminding myself without a first draft there can be no second draft, no finished version.
I guess the process of writing is hard to fathom, else there would be no such thing as writer’s block. But it’s clear that writing begins with thought. Thoughts occur in the mind, and the writer selects which of them to commit to paper: so maybe writer’s block begins here, at the level of thought. When the mind is a blank, the page will be a blank. However, in my experience what is more likely going on is that the mind is not producing anything your critical self deems worthy of using; hence a good exercise when blocked is to write whatever comes into your mind, no matter how nonsensical or seemingly worthless. James Joyce did this, and look what he managed to produce just listening to the babbling of his mind!
Interesting things happen when we let go of controlling our thoughts. And out of this arises poetry.
And I know it’s not the day for linking to it, but I’m going to link here to the Insecure Writers Support Group because this post is relevant.
*Sounds like some bizarre version of scissors, paper, stone…