27 April 2010
Just Another Writer’s Block In The Wall
“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” – Paul Rudnick
The American Heritage Dictionary defines writer’s block as: “A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.” The definition sums up my current predicament rather accurately. When you fear failing or seek perfection, your brain will find ways to protect you from those fears, even if it means not accomplishing the task.
As I prepared to write this research essay assignment, I discovered I was not able to find a topic that I wanted to study and write about. I began considering various topics but for one reason or another the topic no longer fulfilled my need to write. As my imagination searched for topics to consider, it always came back to a single thought. “Everything I’m thinking is a bad writing idea. I can’t think of anything good enough to consider.” I repeatedly found myself engaged in nonsensical distractions and habits.
As an attempting to find a way through my block, I chatted with friends and coworkers. In one exchange with a coworker, I said, “Maybe I should just write about the inability to write.” At first, I joked with the idea, but as we talked and shared ideas, I began to consider it as a legitimate topic.
I started looking into how this subject might work. I learned writer’s block is very common, even among professional writers. Writer’s block is a tedious phase a writer must fight through. Like a baseball pitcher in a slump, the writer must continue to step on the mound and attempt to throw strikes. In my research, many articles simple tell you to quit procrastinating.
Harold Rosenberg, Ph.D., wrote, “Whether we call it “writer’s block,” or procrastination, or just plain laziness, almost everyone of us … had difficulty completing a writing project….” Rosenberg went on to describe how writer’s block commonly results from how we’ve done things in the past (Rosenberg 40).
I witnessed when I begin procrastinating, it feeds on itself and I’ll delay for extended periods. The enormity of the task swells with the anxiety of not being able to write. John Walsh described how “the blank page before you grows to the size of a tablecloth.” Walsh pointed out “Some of history’s most famous, and prodigiously fluent, authors suffered temporary cessations of text: Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield” (Walsh 22). Dennis Upper demonstrated the unprejudiced onset of writer’s block with an article he had published in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, wherein he published a blank page. Quite comically, the reviewer of Upper’s article pointed out he saw no mistakes in the article (Upper 497).
However, Peggy Simson Curry wrote, “… being unable to write is primarily a state of mind.” “This insidious thinking persuades the writer to question every story idea that comes to him” (Curry 22). Curry’s writing hit my story on head. The fear of not writing, echoes back the fear itself. The inability to write is in your head. That may not always be true, often you just need to reevaluate how you are approaching your topic.
In his book, “Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension”, Mike Rose described how teachers want students to be explorative in their writing. But he also points out how that conflicts with the student’s process. By spending time trying to compose to meet the presentation requirements, the student focuses on grammar and structure over exploration (Rose 72-73). Stephen Fry wrote how “absurdly difficult” it is to write until it becomes easier. Fry went on to quote, indirectly, Thomas Mann, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” (Fry 2).
It is so difficult to get over a hill, but when you reach the top, the resistance subsides and you gain momentum as you continue your journey. And my writing is much like that hill. Once I can begin to write, I can continue to advance toward my goal.
My inquiry forced me to evaluate how my writer’s block developed and how I subconsciously encourage the stranglehold it exerted on my writing process. I learned the writer can accept the writer’s block but must not dwell in it. Writer’s block will occur, so I, the writer, need to understand the steps necessary to move through it.
Rose, Mike. Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984.
The author, a scholar at UCLA, described various levels of psychological resistance to writing. Rose also provided possible modes of addressing writer’s block.
Rosenberg, Harold, Ph.D. and Michael I. Lah, Ph.D. “Tackling Writer’s Block.” Journal of Nursing Administration 15.5 (1985): 40-42.
The authors, clinical psychologists, provided direction for self-modification. Their methods looked to analyze multiple steps in the writing process, including task, reinforcement, and distraction analyses along with pitfalls in the task planning.
Curry, Peggy Simson. “How to get out of a creative rut.” Writer September 1967.
January 2010, 123.1: 22-23.
The author, poet laureate, wrote about her steps to circumvent a long phase of writer’s block she experienced.
Walsh, John. “When the words stop flowing.” Belfast Telegraph 13 September 2008, Features, 22.
The author, a reporter for Belfast Telegraph, interviewed multiple authors, including Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, to describe their perceptions of writer’s block and how it affects them.
Upper, Dennis. “The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment Of Writer’s Block.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 7.3 (1974): 497.
The author, a clinical psychologist, satirically demonstrated in this published article that any writer can experience writer’s block.
Fry, Stephen. “Emerging into the Light.” Online posting, 5 September 2009. 14 April 2010 <http://www.stephenfry.com/2009/09/05/emerging-into-the-light/>.
The author, a writer, journalist and comedian, wrote in his weblog about how difficult writing is even for him.
“Writer’s block.” The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition: 2005.
writ•er’s block n. A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.