Mysteries of Writer’s Block | Daily News
Embracing the Enigmatic Dance of Creativity:

Mysteries of Writer’s Block

When I was filling out an online form for a writing course, I encountered a peculiar question that caught me off guard: “What don’t you like about writing?”

Most discussions surrounding writing tend to extol its virtues and celebrate the joy it brings. However, this question probed deeper, seeking to uncover the less glamorous aspects of the craft. As I pondered my response, I realised that there was indeed one hurdle that occasionally plagued our creative endeavours: writer’s block.

The notion of writer’s block has always fascinated me. How could something as intangible as a mental block hinder the creative process? I began to explore this topic further, seeking to understand its origins and unravel the complexities behind this creative impasse.

Writer’s block, at its core, is a formidable adversary capable of rendering even the most prolific writers powerless. It is the unyielding force that disrupts the harmonious symphony of thoughts, ideas, and words. It creeps in stealthily, obscuring the path between a writer’s mind and the blank page, leaving them grappling with a disheartening silence.

As I embarked on my search, I discovered that writer’s block is a complex interplay of psychological, emotional, and environmental factors. It can stem from a multitude of causes—self-doubt, fear of failure, external pressures, or even a lack of inspiration. Understanding these underlying factors became essential in developing effective coping mechanisms and strategies to combat this writerly nemesis.

While writer’s block may manifest differently for each individual, it often shares common symptoms—frustration, self-criticism, and an overwhelming sense of being stuck in a creative rut. Yet, amid these challenges lie hidden opportunities for growth and introspection. By embracing writer’s block as a natural part of the creative process, we can begin to unravel its mysteries and find ways to navigate through its treacherous terrain.

Little did I know at that time that my casual response to that online form would eventually lead me down a rabbit hole of exploration into the enigmatic realm of writer’s block. It’s a term that has haunted and fascinated writers for ages, often whispered about in hushed tones, as if merely mentioning it could invite its unwelcome presence.

In my quest to understand this phenomenon, I explored the experiences and coping mechanisms of renowned writers who had grappled with writer’s block. Ernest Hemingway, for instance, famously described it as the ‘white bull’ and advocated for the importance of discipline and routine to combat its effects. Others, like JK Rowling, found solace in changing their physical environment, seeking inspiration from new surroundings.

I also stumbled upon the concept of ‘flow’, a state of mind in which creativity flows effortlessly and uninterrupted. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this term, emphasizing the importance of finding the right balance between challenge and skill level to enter this optimal state. It made me wonder if unlocking the doors to creativity lies not in banishing writer’s block entirely, but rather in discovering the conditions that foster creative flow.

Perhaps, I mused, writer’s block is not a curse but a hidden blessing in disguise. It serves as a reminder of the intricate dance between art and the human spirit. It forces us to confront our vulnerabilities, to introspect and refine our craft. Like a sculptor chiseling away at a block of marble, the struggle of writer’s block hones our skills and shapes us into more resilient, insightful storytellers.

In 1920, at the tender age of sixteen, Graham Greene reached a breaking point. The monotonous, humiliating, and mentally painful existence at Berkhamsted, the prep school where he was enrolled, became unbearable. Determined to escape his torment, he left behind a note of resignation for his parents, who happened to be the school’s headmaster. This act of defiance deeply troubled his family, leading to a six-month period of psychotherapy. Little did Greene know that this escape would mark a turning point in his life. It granted him relief from the despised school and sparked a habit that would prove indispensable to his future as a writer: keeping a dream journal.

Considering the immense body of work Greene produced throughout his career, one might find it hard to believe that he ever experienced writer’s block. However, in his fifties, that is precisely what transpired. He encountered a creative ‘blockage’, as he referred to it, which hindered his ability to visualise the development of a story or even its initial stages. Fortunately, his dream journal emerged as his salvation. To Greene, dream journaling was a distinct form of writing. It offered a sanctuary where his dreams were solely for his own eyes. There was no risk of being sued for libel or subject to fact-checking. No one could object to the fanciful twists and turns of his dream world. Yvonne Cloetta, Greene’s long-time mistress, quoted him in the foreword of “A World of My Own,” a collection of selected dream-journal entries, as saying, “If one can remember an entire dream, the result is a sense of entertainment sufficiently marked to give one the illusion of being catapulted into a different world . . . . One finds oneself remote from one’s conscious preoccupations.” In the freedom from conscious anxieties, Greene discovered the ability to do what he otherwise struggled with: write.

Intriguingly, the same practice that began as an outlet for Greene’s adolescent distress became his lifeline during a period of creative stagnation. It offered him an escape from the constraints of his conscious mind, allowing him to immerse himself in a realm of unrestricted imagination. In that liberated state, he found the creative freedom he desperately needed to pursue his craft once more.

Edmund Bergler, a follower of Freudian psychoanalysis, applied his knowledge to address the issue at hand. In a 1950 article titled ‘Does Writer’s Block Exist?’, published in American Imago, a journal established by Freud in 1939, Bergler asserted that a writer resembles a psychoanalyst. According to him, a writer unconsciously employs writing as a means of sublimating their inner problems. Therefore, when a writer experiences a block, it is actually a psychological barrier, and the remedy lies in therapy. By resolving the underlying personal psychological issues, the blockage can be eliminated.

While this perspective is somewhat valid, it is frustratingly ambiguous and built on assumptions. How can we ascertain that writers are employing writing as a form of sublimation? Can we conclude that all problems stem from a blocked psyche? Moreover, what exactly constitutes a blocked psyche?

Interestingly, Bergler’s thinking was not far from the truth. The term ‘writer’s block’ itself was initially introduced into academic literature in the 1940s by psychiatrist Edmund Bergler. In the 1970s and 1980s, psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios from Yale University aimed to develop a more empirically grounded understanding of creative blockage. They assembled a diverse group of writers, including those involved in fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, and various forms of media such as print, stage, and screen. Some of these writers were blocked, while others were not. The blocked writers had to meet specific predetermined criteria: they had to provide objective evidence of their lack of progress in writing (such as confirming no advancement in their main project) and express a subjective feeling of incapacity to write. These symptoms needed to persist for a minimum of three months.

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