Sunday, August 27, 2017

You Blockhead! Dealing with Writer's Block

You stare at the computer monitor willing the story to come, filled with sinking desolation. Where are the words? They were there yesterday, flowing with easy abandon from head through fingers on the keyboard. Now, the only writing you can bring to mind is a grocery list and you can't remember whether you need a bottle of ketchup or already have three of them in the pantry.

Welcome to writer’s block, but be of good cheer. It’s all in your head. As a matter of fact, it isn’t a real psychological condition at all. Up until the nineteenth century, the idea of writer’s block didn’t exist. Before then, writers had a romantic belief in a muse. Poetry magically arrived from a different spiritual plane. If words failed to come, the writer must have ticked off the gods and better sacrifice that chicken and get back in their favor ASAP. One of the first mentions of writer’s block was by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who described an indefinite terror at his inability to produce noteworthy poetry, and yet, he could write. He was not only a journalist producing articles, but also literary criticism. Coleridge still saw himself as a failure, because poetry eluded him after his twenties. Poor Sam never got back his mojo and ended life as an opium addict.

French writers of the later nineteenth century rejected the idea of a muse, but expanded on the idea that a writer needed to suffer for art. A true writer was a tortured soul, and if the words stuck in your head, you were on the right track. The only way to shake them free was be more miserable. Move into an unheated garret. Catch an upper respiratory disease. Mon Dieu, you can’t write without anguish.

In modern times, the idea of writer’s block is seen more as a function of a lack of discipline than a psychological condition. Psychologist Steven Pritzker, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Creativity asserts what's known as writer's block is an “artificial construct that basically justifies a discipline problem. A commitment to a regular work schedule will help you overcome barriers like perfectionism, procrastination and unrealistic expectations.” Susan Reynolds, author of Fire up your Brain agrees and lists five ways writing can stall; the author got off track and lost the plot’s direction, passion waned, unrealistic expectations, burnout, and distractions. A study from the 1980’s by Yale psychologists Michael Barrios and Jerome Singer had blocked writers doing imagery exercises and found even when people didn’t think they can be creative, they were. The ability to write doesn't go away, but may lie dormant as stress in our lives takes center stage. It's difficult to write when thoughts are consumed by something else. So how do you get past that and give your own mental juices a psychological kick in the pants?

Thinking hurts my brain
Writing is hard work. It requires constant creative thought and that can be tiring. Psychologists who study creativity suggest a move forward needs an action completely outside the box. So reject those mundane suggestions to take a walk and clear your head. Your head is fine. Instead, try one of these unusual methods

Change your writing schedule. A study conducted by the
University of Michigan concluded self-proclaimed “morning people,” who feel more productive in daytime hours, are actually more adept at creative problem-solving in the evening. The opposite held true for those who claimed they were more focused at night.

Write for fifteen minutes, but turn off or cover the computer monitor. Don’t be distracted by the words on the screen. Just put down what comes into your head.

Do a visualization experiment. Listen to music in a new genre, preferably without lyrics. Try to “visualize” the music. What images come to mind? What do you see people doing? Saying?

Step out of your head. Imagine your ideal reader. Spend ten minutes writing for her or him.

Start another creative project; paint, plant flowers, tweak a recipe, write a song (even a lousy one.) Experts on creativity say that using the brain for one project can spark inventiveness in another.

Get your brain out of the rut by changing the font and/or color on the computer monitor to wacky-looking. On every page increase or decrease the font size. When something normal and routine suddenly looks different, your brain works harder to process new information.


Finally, psychologists have noted a hand/brain connection. Doing something with your hands can spur creativity, so take a few minutes to write old school with pen and paper.


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