On Writer’s Block
I do not get writer’s block. Now, I do not think there is anything particularly special about me that would make this the case. Nor do I think that there is some sort of failure or malfunction on the part of its sufferers. But, I do believe that the cause of writer’s block – understood as incontinence or castration of the creative process – results from misunderstanding the creative process itself.
Consider an analogy. You need to fall asleep. You have taken the necessary steps to go to sleep; you had a shower, you got cosy and comfortable, you worked out earlier in the day and feel weary, and on top of this, you have work early tomorrow so you are incentivised to get a good rest. You lay in bed and try to fall asleep but find yourself unable to. You start thinking of tricks you had learned to fall asleep; you begin counting sheep, thinking sleepy thoughts, and lying perfectly still. You become flustered and try stimulating yourself into stillness. But, sleep is something that comes from letting go and relaxing, not by pursuing unconsciousness and activating your mind. When people do this, and I think we all have done this, we are thinking about sleep in the wrong way. It is not that we are bad at sleeping, or lack the capacity to sleep; it is that through our misunderstanding of the process of sleep, we have confused ourselves into such a state that we are unable to sleep.
I believe that many writers treat the creative process in a similarly confused manner. Just as with the sleepless individual, many writers apply principles and methods that may work in one setting but are wholly inappropriate in another.
The person experiencing writer’s block generally is trying to get something down. Whether it is because of a deadline or because of inner compulsion, the writer will try to force the creativity out. But, just as you cannot stimulate relaxation or control freedom, you also cannot force creativity for the simple reason that creativity is not a static thing that can be produced, but is rather, a dynamic and active process that requires a certain state of mind; a state of mind that is totally incompatible with one that is seeking, demanding, or forcing.
Creativity requires freedom of movement. That freedom of movement is inhibited and often entirely blunted when it comes with conditions like meeting a deadline. Writer’s block, therefore, occurs when we try to pin this creative movement to the demands of day to day life. Rosseau once wrote that you cannot force freedom. He was, of course, talking about society. But the point holds on the microcosmic level: you cannot force the freedom of thought to occur. The results will be a warped, diminished or blunted creation.
I do no get writer’s block because I understand that creative expression operates according to a deeper order. It must be allowed to work itself out and when it is ready, it will express itself. I never try to force myself to write because, in the process, I lose the rhythm and freedom which makes the creative act so special. My advice then is simply: stop. Heed the call of your creative unconscious and respond to it when it is ready, rather than forcing it to be ready according to your whim. Of course, this is only possible when our creativity is not pinned to the demands of a system which measures value according to standards of productivity and efficiency, rather than creative freedom. The problem, then, is not the writer who experiences the block, but the system which places demands on the writer that is incompatible with their creative freedom.