From Whence the Evil Writer’s Block?
In a previous article I noted that
The question of “what is art” is a deeply involved philosophical question which I don’t intend to address in full here (or perhaps ever) but one critical aspect of artwork is that it is a product of some sort of intentional working out of a problem or puzzle that often times the artist has created for themselves. It means finding a way to say something, to address an issue in society, in a fresh way, and that takes intent. Much of writer’s block can be said to stem, then, from a lack of hope. Intent-crushing despair. Such despairing statements as “nobody will publish this book anyway” or “nobody reads this blog anyway” or “nobody understands me” kill the working out of the puzzle, while the statement “I will make myself understood” is a statement primarily of hope, for we feel that if we are understood, someone may also come to a life-changing conclusion, we will have made an impact. Once we’ve made that statement, we have voiced an intent to do it. What we speak with intent is what we do.
We need to back up here. If you’re an aspiring writer—who has been an aspiring writer for some time—without actually writing, it may be time to reevaluate. It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of being a writer. As readers, we begin to learn to admire writers while we are still young. They have made us giggle or ponder some wonder of the earth, say, dinosaurs. It’s harder to begin to believe that we actually have something unique to say.
Saying that unique thing which comes from us, while referring to writers who have gone before but without plagiarizing either their voice or content takes some development. Developing our voice is a stylistic thing, to be sure, but it goes along with content. An example from a voice I admire: Kurt Vonnegut’s voice always matched his message.
When I was a college student, one professor encouraged me to continue to speak up in class. “We need your perspective,” he said. I still remember that when I wonder if anyone will care what I have to say. My professor recognized something valuable even then.
Should everyone who admires writers try to be a writer? Probably not.
How do you make that determination? I can’t say in general, though I’m confident in a few conversations I could help someone sort that out. My friend Doug Fike says that each of us has a message, and people to give that to, and a delivery method. Perhaps writing is your delivery method, perhaps not. I think it could be quite freeing to discover that writing is not your medium. The same sort of relief I felt when I stopped carving stone.
Once you’ve decided for sure that writing is for you, and begin to develop your voice, matching it to your message, you’re going to need regular infusions of hope, like a daily cup of coffee. I’m not saying it will be as easy to get as coffee is. Hope is connected to your wish for meaning and connection with others, and it’s so critical in getting past writer’s block.
What good is a voice with nothing to say? My wife says that until she was four years old she hardly spoke. Her mother took her to the doctor or a speech therapist or some other “authority”, and they said, “She’s perfectly fine. When she has something to say, she’ll speak up.” Perhaps it was just that her older sisters anticipated her needs. “Mom, Megan is hungry.” She was also taking a lot in, no doubt about it. If you think you might be a writer, and might have something to say, but aren’t sure, then just keep taking it in. Read. Read a lot. This is such common advice for how to become a writer that I’m going to leave it at that.
But where do you get hope, then? Intellectually, it’s optimism. Emotionally, it’s positivity. Spiritually it’s acceptance of your voice as valuable to the world.
Ultimately, if you’re grappling with writer’s block, one question to ask yourself is “do I have hope for this project? Do I have hope for the people who experience this project?” If the answer is yes, perhaps there’s another problem. After all, a lack of hope isn’t the only thing that keeps you from writing.
I’m curious to hear your take, readers. What other issues do you think cause writer’s block?