Writer’s block; it’s like being constipated. There’s plenty of stuff in there, but it’s all shit. The solution, according to millions of websites, blogs, blurbs, books, ancient scrolls etc, is to write. What!? Idiots. If I could write I’d… Well, obviously I can write; it’s just that what I’m writing is so abysmally putrid it makes me want to projectile vomit, and I have to delete it instantly in case somehow it sneaks out there through the interweb and someone sees it. Picasso had his Rose and Blue Periods – I am in my Shit Period.
Supposedly the problem is that there are no ideas, that you’re literally blocked, and nothing will come out. But the truth is much more horrifying. The truth is that ideas do occur, that words do come out, but they are awful ideas, and terrible words. They are the incipient ideas of an adolescent, and not even a particularly deep thinking adolescent. They are the words of a black and white thinker; all the subtlety of the shades of grey are lost; the space where the magic happens is not so much unplumbed as nonexistent. Worst of all the ideas and the words are judged by a still very capable and adult inner critic who finds them to be quite simply intolerable; cringe-worthy; abominable. Not good enough simply for deletion, this is the kind of writing that requires the hard drive to be reformatted in its entirety lest somehow the truth – the fact that I am an infantile hack – somehow escapes the typing machine and I am found out.
And as my writing ability dwindles, so The Critic’s powers grow. His senses are finely honed and his words as destructive as ever; he delights in having such weak work to dissect. His utter inability to create anything even vaguely readable himself does not daunt his desire to find fault and to judge. The Critic, a friend and partner in the good times, suddenly becomes all-powerful and unable to be trusted. The Block is the fuel through which he gains the upper hand. Despite having done no work to earn the position he basks in the glory of his new status as the Head Honcho. It’s a coup d’etat in which the underling suddenly seizes the reigns and takes to his work with all the gusto of any small man who stumbles into power. He is authoritarian, compassionless, lazy and arrogant.
The inner critic in the creative process is your friend when he’s kept in check. The Critic is an assistant to the editor, and the editor and the writer work as a team. When The Critic is in charge, allowed to make editorial decisions, what he most often says is “What the hell is this shit?! This is so bad it makes me want to gouge out mine own eyes. My God, please make it stop. Delete that in its entirety and hide the evidence in case somehow someone outside this room gets hold of it and laughs till they keel over and piss themselves. I suggest you quit writing for good and get a real job. Now get out of my office before I call security.”
And so, here are my tips for lifting yourself out of the depths of despair that The Block instills. I refuse to give into the temptation to entitle this “6 Helpful Hints for Beating Writer’s Block”, and so gain a massive nmber of hits to my blog whose readership, despite my writing nearly 40 articles over the last year, is virtually exclusively confined to people reading only two of them, namely: “15 Helpful Hints for Riding a Scooter in Ubud Bali”; and, “10 Things Guaranteed to Make your Depression Much Fucking Worse.”
1) Drink shit loads of coffee. I don’t care what anyone says, including what I said in my own article after quitting coffee for a month and then writing about it – coffee is the nectar of the gods and helps with the creative process of writing. Albert Camus summed it up well with his quote “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”
2) Just write something. Anything. It’s mental constipation1 – it seems that you have to get the blocked up shit out before the function can return to normal. Write it and then destroy the evidence.
3) Try to separate The Critic from The Editor. Remember that The Critic is only temporarily in charge and eventually his ill-gotten power will be revoked and he will again be relegated to editorial assistant.
4) Form some way of viewing The Block as a positive thing. Maybe it’s not, but I intuit that it is somehow. Even if it’s not, what good is viewing it in any other way? Maybe it’s part of your development as a writer, a plateau is how sports people refer to a period in training when performance gains cease or even reverse. In sport at least, this is accepted as a normal and necessary part of improvement, and if you don’t see all writing as training for your next piece of writing, you’re probably not a writer.
5) Go for a walk with the steadfast determination not to think about writing the entire time. Your brain is a complete dick and so will send you all kinds of ideas and will continue to do so as long as you pretend that these thoughts are intrusive and unwelcome; try to surreptitiously remember them all and write them down when you get home.2
6) Try to think of your brain not as your enemy, but as a malfunctioning tool. The human brain has evolved over millions and millions of years, not to help you think creatively, but to help you stay alive long enough to procreate, and to raise your kids for as long as it takes them to procreate also (after that it pretty much doesn’t give a shit about you and will leave you to your own devices to drink yourself to death or whatever… but I digress). Try to work out when your brain is operating in a way that is essentially primitive and ignore it. The brain’s role in creativity is bamboozling, but when it’s operating at a reptilian survival/risk minimisation level it’s pretty easy to spot and with practice, to work around.