May 14, 2012

A Writer's Life - The myth of writer's block

Much has been said (or written, for that matter) about writer's block. some argue that there is no such thing as writer's block and that you just need to get your behind in gear (also known as placing the chair in front of the computer) and with a bit of good will (and a bottle of whiskey) you'll get back on track again. Other's insist that this kind of forced determination only makes things worse.

Either way, sometimes it helps to stay seated, staring at the computer screen, waiting for some kind of epiphany, other times it's better to take a step back and get some distance between yourself and your plot. Both approaches work, but not for every writer, so at the end of the day it's a very individual choice whether to glue yourself to that chair or take a walk.

The thing is, I don't believe in writer's block. To me this sounds as if all creative flow has come to a complete stop. Your imaginative landscape is parched and dry and not as single drop of water in sight. Not a pretty picture. Yet, in my experience ideas don't just stop. This isn't like hitting a big brick wall that suddenly materialized in front of your nose.
It's more like taking a walk through the woods and suddenly you're not sure which way to go - one path is just too overgrown, another is muddy, and the last one will only take you in a circle. The thing is, you know where you want to go, but the trip leaves a few questions open. All of these paths will get you from A to B but, and this is the important part, will they also make the story work? We wouldn't discuss this matter now if the answer was a resounding yes, would we.

Thus you end up thinking and thinking and maybe a bit of drinking too, digging and paving a whole new path (often just to discard it as a viable option) until a sudden flash of inspiration hits you about two and a half years later while you are either sitting in your dentist's waiting toom (many confuse these moments as near-death-experiences) or scrubbing the kitchen floor (I have this theory that such mundane tasks often kick start your creativity, because our brain fears we might hang ourselves with a dirty dish towel). Though, if you're lucky, it hits you on a lazy afternoon lounging at a beach on the Bahamas (it's not unheard of and if this has happened to you before, let it be said that I hate you).

Trust me, it's not you. It's the plot. No, really, I'm serious. Sometimes it's the plot that knows no other way than sending you into a full fledged creative crisis, because ... something isn't working! Look at it like a relationship. Giving up is for loosers. You work on it! Show your love and woo it, bring it flowers, take it on vacation, and only ever give up when you catch your manuscript in an incriminating manner with one of your dictionaries, or worse, the whole encyclopedia.

And then, when the holiday is over, the last drop of champagne drunk, your unfinished book will willingly open its pages and ... alright, this sounds a bit ... uhm, cheap now, but you get the general idea - appreciate and celebrate what you have already written, and given time, dedication (and obscene amounts of chocolate and caffeine) things will develop from there, step by step (and occasionally angelic choirs singing in the background).

What's your take on writer's block? Believe in it? Ignore it? Have fun with it? Let me know.

4 comments:

  1. Haha, i haven't really thought about it, but this is totally what i think a writers block is! I love the bit 'catch your manuscript in an incriminating manner with one of your dictionaries' :)

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    1. Yep, who knows what books are doing when no one's looking ... ;-)

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  2. I don't know that it's a 'block' for me either. But in all my creative pursuits- writing, crafting, etc, I sometimes have to just walk away from it. "See it with fresh eyes" if you will. When I stop obsessing over it, then I'm able to move on.

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    1. That sure works with many aspects in life. It's a bit like the saying about not seeing the forest for all the trees. If you take a step back, you'll see things more clearly (and if that fails, I go back and do some re-writing, ha).

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