It’s the mental equivalent of constipation.
Over the last seventy two hours I have written no less than three thousand words resulting in two essays and a chapter of my current novel left half-finished. The output isn’t great by any standards and I’m currently at a loss at how to deal with the problem.
I don’t know if writer’s block affects other writers differently. Those who I’ve spoken to about the phenomenon have told me that writer’s block is the result of overthinking a project. As someone who thinks all the time, this information isn’t all that helpful.
Trusted remedies such as exercise, housework, automotive repairs, reading and social interactions aren’t doing much good either.
Neither is Ludlum my cat who sensing my frustration with the literary craft, likes to offer solace by walking across my keyboard or pacing back and forth in front of the computer screen whenever some trickle of words begins to flow.
So, with no available remedy, and no complete essays on actual meaningful topics available what better opportunity to make my reading audience suffer then with a boring piece about a boring topic?
After all, doesn’t this website come with the disclaimer encouraging you to partake of my pain?
This writer’s experience of writer’s block is almost always the same. There is output, but the output either reads with same foul consistency of dog-shit or deteriorates into long languid phrases replete with copious vocabulary and devoid of constellations of meaning.
With me so far?
As always I fail to catch the onset of writer’s block until it’s too late. The initial symptoms are most visible when writing fiction. For example in my current work in progress, a semi-literate, street-smart thug began waxing lyrically in an academic dialect a Harvard professor would have difficulty translating. The language and tone are out of character. The character gets pissed off which leads to the next symptom:
The characters stop talking to me.
Before you jump to conclusions and assume I’m on anti-psychotic meds allow me to elaborate. I don’t plan novels or stories. No doubt there are writing teachers who find the idea of an unplanned manuscript horrifying, but the truth is that plot-lines and planned characters have never worked for me.
The best analogy I can think of when writing is that it’s like filming a movie. Most of the time I simply turn on my computer and record the events unfolding in my imagination – or more accurately, the thoughts, fears, concerns and actions of the characters. I find that writing is easiest and most exhilarating when I’m wrapped up in a scene as if I’m actually inside the story looking on as a silent, intangible witness to what the characters do and say.
Sometimes the experience is a rush. Sometimes it’s a painful and chilling experience. Sometimes I leave that mental theatre shaken by what I’ve witnessed.
Two scenes in particular have stayed with me in the past year. One from my first novel Business and Demons concerns a minor character being strangled to death in her office. The murderer’s motivation is a mix of frustration and ambition. Told from the first person perspective, the character revelled in the distress he was causing the victim and when the scene ended, I felt violated and unclean. After leaving my computer I wanted to hug my friends and relatives, then curl into a ball and hide. Sadly I had to go work at my day-job so I compromised and hugged my boss. I guess I can kiss that promotion good-bye!
I jest. I got the promotion before I hugged my boss! And the black-eye was totally worth it!
Again I jest! It was a hospital trip… okay I’ll stop.
Another scene that frightens me is from my latest novel City of Steel where a group of vigilantes drag a man from his home and beat him to death in front of his family and neighbours. It’s not just the subject matter that upsets me but the willingness of the onlookers to stand by and watch such a reprehensible crime unfold before them. Admittedly I have written some pretty violent depictions over the years, but by far the best written were the most difficult to write.
Another symptom of pending writer’s block: Inordinate levels of self-doubt complete with expletives. The usual questions arise. Who’s going to read this shit? I’m too old for this shit. I should turn my focus to more mundane things like dishwasher repair or some other shit.
Not that there’s anything wrong with fixing dishwashers or other appliances. It’s just that the idea of spending the rest of my life messing around with faulty gears, broken pumps and poorly designed manufactured, built-to-fail crap would leave me even more embittered and cynical than I already am.
Which reminds me: I need to run the dishwasher.