While researching writer’s block I came across an interesting article from the 14 June 2004 issue of The New Yorker called ‘Blocked: Why do writers stop writing?’. The article suggests writer’s block is a peculiarly American condition and quotes one British writer who claims not to suffer from it. I’m happy for him, but I’ve known far too many British writers (students, academics, poets, novelists …) who do suffer from it to believe this is true of all British writers.
What is more convincing is the article’s claim that we have the Romantics to thank for writer’s block. This argument makes sense because before the Romantics, writers tended to think of writing as an occupation. Meanwhile, the Romantics thought writing should be inspired. In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth argues ‘that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ (see paragraph 26 of this online text). This is where we get the idea that one has to be ‘in the mood’ to write.
Writers who cling to such notions tend to make themselves miserable. If you read further in ‘Blocked: Why do writers stop writing?’, you’ll find that many famous writers have suffered from substance abuse problems and mental illnesses. These writers believed their problems were caused by writer’s block.
Writers do not have to be miserable. They do not have to make themselves ill.
When you start a new writing project, just get words on a page. They don’t have to be good words. But they do need to be recorded somewhere so you can improve them later. Good writing rarely, if ever, springs fully formed from the writer’s mind as Athena is said to have sprung from Zeus’s forehead. The next time you get discouraged at not producing beautiful writing on the first try, remind yourself you are not a Greek god—you might feel better.
In Coping with Writers Block, I outline several practical steps you can take to deal with any resistance you have to putting pen to paper. I hope you find them helpful.
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