Up until, oh, this week, I would have said I’ve had writer’s block for five years. And then I put together my portfolio and realized that I was actually writing a lot.
Somewhere I have a book on hypergraphia, the compulsion to write. Not the passion or the inspiration, but the compulsion. I never did finish reading it. The most memorable idea from what I read was that writer’s block is a matter of perception. Here I am, definitely suffering from writer’s block; I’ve got all the neurotic worry and self recrimination going at full bore, even though I was churning out thousands of words every week.
(Let’s pretend this is a bulleted list of everything I’d been writing during that time, which is of interest only to me. You should pretend to be suitably impressed.)
The satisfying and redemptive way to frame this would be by saying the block was all in my head. And all in your head, by extension, since the redemptive way to frame this would also attempt to generalize this to everyone. Writer’s block isn’t real and all you have to do is just believe in yourself, and another fairy gets it wings, clap-clap!
I’ve got this sneaking suspicion it doesn’t work that way.
Perception does not mean it’s all in your head. Perception is about context: how you understand the situation. The situation exists. I’m certain there was something I should have been writing that I wasn’t, and I knew it. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of words you churn out if they’re not the words you need.
There are more than two types of fiction writers, but I’m simplifying down to the extremes here for proof of concept.
We’re not talking angst and mood swings. The fiction comes from an emotional place. Is driven and controlled by it. For most folks, it’s subconscious. These are the writers who will say, “I was trying to get my character to train with communist monks, but instead she decided she wanted to go wine tasting.” The stories are in charge. The subconscious is in charge.
Emotional writers don’t outline. Emotional writers have conversations with their characters in their heads. When they successfully tap into a vein, their stories have powerful emotional resonance with their readers.
In some ways, this is great. Writing can become this almost trance state. It can flow and feel good and when you’re done you’re surprised at all of the things you put in here, Hey, neat foreshadowing the wine tasting in Chapter 1! However, it’s really easy to write yourself into a corner when you haven’t planned ahead.
Deliberate writers plan. They know where they’re going. Their characters show up for work on time. They can write intricate concept driven stories. They know exactly why they mentioned the character prefers chardonnay to beer in Chapter 1, and she goes wine tasting because that was always the plan.
Deliberate writers still use emotion in their fiction, but it isn’t the driving force.
Most writers are not purely emotional nor purely deliberate. Most are combinations. I am primarily an emotional writer. I can be deliberate, but that’s not where my stories come from.
I can’t say what writer’s block is like for a deliberate writer; I have no idea. But for me, for an emotional writer, it means there’s something wrong. Inside. Maybe it’s a truth you can’t let yourself face, a hurt you’re not willing to tap into. Maybe those stories that you think of but then can’t write for years, until suddenly one day you can – maybe that’s because you hadn’t experienced what you needed to in order to write that story.
That’s why I’ve felt like I had writer’s block. Have writer’s block. Even though I’ve been writing. I haven’t been tapping into my subconscious. I’ve been trying to drown it out. Actually, no, I have it tied up in a closet with a sock stuffed in its mouth, and still I can’t get the damn thing to be quiet. And you know, when it eventually gets out, it’s totally going to kick my ass.