4 Jun 2012

Writer's Block

You are about to write the essay that’s in for next Friday; 2,500 words; a relatively easy topic. Relax. Concentrate. Allow the world to fade away into the background; dispel all thought about it. You should close the door. That music will only distract you. Tell your housemates before you start: you don’t want to watch a film or go out; you just want to get it over and done with undisturbed. Or, you may prefer the silent option and just hope that you’ll be left in peace.

Now, settle down. Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, lying flat or curled on the bed. Lying on the floor, if you want. By the desk, on the bed, on the sofa; whatever you prefer, obviously. Prepare yourself. Naturally, you can never find that ideal position for reading or writing: the first immovable obstacle between you and that finished 2500 essay. Sort anything else out now. Correct lighting? Food within reach? The best books near? Good, let’s commence.

Well, what are you waiting for? Get stuck in. Push that first button on the keyboard; scrape that ink across the fresh sheet of paper.

Still waiting? The first word isn’t hard. How about ‘the’? The most common word in the English language would be as good a place to start as any. Just write it, and then carry on, chipping away at that menacing target of words. It won’t affect your grade that much. You just need to start. It’s really not that hard, is it?

Metafiction over.

Writer’s block plagues so many people almost every time we set our pens to paper – or, more likely today, every time we stare at that blank, unblinking, menacingly clinical computer screen.

It plagues you before you even start. Before you know it, you’ve sat at your desk for an hour without writing a single word. Well, you may have written a word or two, in the form of a Facebook update moaning about your motivation to defeat procrastination.

For many, the worst part is the very beginning: sitting down at a desk and staining the document with that first word. After that, evolution will naturally occur, and that word will grow into a sentence, a paragraph, a whole piece of work. Why is it that we stumble before we even leave the starting line?

Doubt. When we begin writing, we expose ourselves. Our opinions, thoughts and innermost secrets can very quickly, mostly subtly, leak out into our writing, whether it is creative or factual. The old phrase ‘we are our own biggest critics’ comes into play here. The beginning is the hardest because we, as critics, question what we’ve written even before it is written. Our doubt, our own critic, builds and rebuilds the firewall to our creativity, Writer’s Block.
I suppose I should attempt to offer my solution to it, instead of merely moaning about another apparently hopeless topic.

I once read an article that proposed the answer to this predicament. Putting forth the words of American poet William Stafford, it stated:

There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough.

Stafford here encourages us all when we start to write to lower our standards. This isn’t telling us to write rubbish, but it is telling us not to be afraid of it at the beginning. The doubt stems from the fact that we want to write a good essay, story, article or whatever else it may be. Take yourself less seriously, he says. Forget about judgement; ignore doubt. Write nonsense at first: all that matters is that you write. Then iron the creases out; litter the bedroom floor with pages; get repetitive strain injury through extensive use of the delete button.

Still debating how to start your first sentence? Well, I’m not sure how I can really help. Perhaps the most frequently given advice to conquer writer’s block is to get out: go for a walk and do a bit of physical exercise. Be sure to take your phone or something to record ideas. How many times have you had a great idea come into your head, only to get home and remember only the fact that you had a good idea an hour ago? When something comes to you, record it as soon as possible, as you will forget it. Good ideas tend to have an irritating habit of coming to us when we don’t necessarily need them at that time.

Another little thing you could do is start in the middle of your work. Personally, I’m not a fan of this, preferring just to soldier through in a dogged, chronological fashion. However, many would argue that it’s a worthwhile tactic, allowing you to get into the meat of the writing that you may enjoy more, or may just have more to say on. It will also allow you to go back and write the beginning easier and quicker. Sometimes it's easier to say where you're going after you know where you've been. After all, your readers don’t know you wrote the introduction last.

Well, to tie this insignificant drivel together, my point is that we cannot really hope to defeat writer’s block. Even now, I’m grappling with the firewall between my fingers and each press of the next key. It is a painful and daunting concept, but if we understand it, we may be able to minimise its impact. It’s simply doubt preventing your unconscious mind from running with the initial ideas that then evolve into those paragraphs that make up your work. Just start writing. It’s simple: just write and the 2,500 word essay will soon be conquered. 

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