I know it’s hard to believe, but there are some people out there, writers among them, who don’t believe a condition like writer's block really exists. They think it’s a myth, a grandiose theory perpetuated by the lazy, the liars, and the plain bone-idle, and by those airy-fairy arty-farty types – the dilettante – who like the idea of writing and love the idea of being known as a writer, but in reality just don’t have the stomach for the genuinely hard work of conceiving, writing and finishing a sustained work of fiction.
And sometimes, of course, it actually is that – God knows there are vast legions of wannabe-neverbe writers out there.
But maybe a little like IBS, RSI, SAD, or having a 'bad back', writer's block is just one of those things that some people will never completely believe in until they have first-hand experience of it.
One thing to remember, though – stuck isn’t blocked. Stuck is not knowing where to go next. Stuck is knowing where to go but not which route to take to get there. Stuck is just stuck, and there are lots of practical ways of getting around any obstacle or out of any kind of irritating rut you may have fallen into. Blocked isn’t being stuck.
Blocked is being FUBAR.
Everyone who has suffered an attack by the peculiar and unpleasant beast that is writer’s block knows all too well how real it feels when it has its teeth in you, and how badly it can poison your life. How that terrible feeling of inertia and stagnation and hopelessness chips away at other, perhaps happier aspects of your world, and slowly begins to sour and devalue them. And how all the while you have that awful sense of time and opportunity passing you by, and the added indignity of having your discipline and your hard-earned practise of the craft being steadily eroded and weakened. Your wheels are spinning but you’re going nowhere. You’re trapped and shackled, imprisoned in an airless, lifeless bubble, a deadly grey vacuum, sapping all your creative energy and keeping you from the occupation you love and which you feel defines you as a person.
In all honesty, and from the heart, it really sucks.
Personally speaking, my own great trial with writer’s block lasted eight solid months, during which I was unable to write as much as a worthwhile sentence. In the grand scheme of things, eight months may be no more than the blink of an eye, but I can assure you that at the time those months seemed like years. This dreadful mental impotence initially coincided – not entirely coincidentally, I suppose – with my last (and thankfully successful) attempt to stop smoking cigarettes. It shouldn’t be too surprising that these two factors should be linked. When it comes to writing and writers, absolutely everything is linked.
Of course, there are many, many reasons why a writer may become blocked – lots of them far more serious than mere nicotine withdrawal – and far too many to list in total. The imagination of the human mind, after all, is infinite, and therefore the ways it can become hampered and compromised are also infinite. Nevertheless, some of the more common contributing and underlying factors are a list of what we might call the usual suspects: Lack of time. Lack of success. Lack of appreciation. Lack of encouragement. Lack of confidence. Naturally, all of them are linked one to the other, like a lethal daisy-chain.
The standard pragmatic advice dished out to sufferers is generally of the ‘tough love’ school of thought, which is no bad thing – get back on the horse, writers write, just do it, etc., which are all valid comments – if a writer is only stuck, that is. But sometimes, if it’s genuine writer’s block, then that’s like telling someone not to be sad when they’re completely heartbroken, or not to worry when they’re worried out of their mind over something entirely out of their control.
Sometimes time is the only cure.
Like trying to give up smoking, no amount of good intentions or nicotine gums or herbal supplements or pastoral support will get you off and keep you off the little cancer sticks – only the power of your own mind will do that. That little switch someplace deep inside that suddenly clicks and you know, finally, you’re done. Writers have another little switch, and it’s down to the individual to find and maintain it.