Tuesday 22 March 2011

The dreaded block...

There's a good article in today's Times about writer's block ("the fabled terminator of literary careers, the paralylser of talent, the murderer of the muse", as it so poetically puts it. No writer's block there).

Of course, there's the usual question about whether or not writer's block exists at all. My own feeling is that if anyone says they've suffered from it, then it exists, just as I usually trust someone if they say they have a headache. I can't see the headache, but I tend to believe people who say they have one. I've certainly experienced writer's block, and I don't mean the "I'll just shampoo the cat/clean the car/ pickle the onions first" variety, which for me comes under the heading of Not Getting Down To It; that's a different ailment altogether.

It's comforting to know there have been many eminent sufferers, including Joseph Conrad, who described it thus:
"Sometimes it takes all my resolution and power of self-control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth ..."

Yep. That just about sums it up. The people who say WB doesn't exist tend to be those who have never suffered from it. Well, good for them. But isn't it a little arrogant to assume that because they are fortunate enough to have the kinds of minds that are constantly overflowing with wonderful ideas, anyone who is not so blessed is inventing a condition to cover up their inadequacy?


  1. Too true! I do suffer from periodic bursts of WB, ergo, it exists for me. Just as I get very car sick and then wondered if I didn't when a catankerous old aunt of Husband's said "Pshaw! Car sickness doesn't exist!" I lived in terror of her ever after...

    Seriously, though, I agree it's a form of arrogance - or perhaps "blindness" is a kinder word to use - that if one hasn't experienced something it can't exist.

    Good post!
    Judy (South Africa)

  2. Hi Frances,
    I must say,when I'm 'blocked'which can be often, I'll write a nonsense poem, silly diary entry. Like, 'had beans on toast for breakfast,' which maybe explains why my folders are full of nonsense poems and diary entries. Enjoyed your post.

  3. Luckily I've never suffered from writer's block. (I agree that isn't absolute proof the condition doesn't exist.)

    I do have severe bouts of 'Not Getting Down To It' though - symptoms get worse on sunny days for some reason.

  4. Hi, Judy. Maybe it's another variant of "is the tree still in the quad when I'm not looking at it"...? Perhpas not.

    Suzy, my problem is with the plots of novels. A novel takes such a long time to write (in my case, about a year), that I have to make sure the plot is one I can work with and develop to a suitable length. I'm struggling with that at the moment, so I suppose I'm suffering from WB right now. Sigh.

    Patsy, lucky you! It's a horrible feeling, especially if you're under pressure (or putting yourself under pressure). I agree about NGDTI. No excuses, either!

  5. I agree, WB is horrible. And the more pressure you're under to get something written, the worse it can get.

  6. I'm in the camp of those who suffer from 'not getting down to it'. I flit between too many different types of writing to know whether I ever suffer from W.B.

    Maybe it's partly because I'm not a planner - that way would definitely cause me writers' block, I think!

  7. Hi, Suzanne. Yes - after a while, I get to the stage where I feel as though my head is going to explode. So perhaps it really is a disease...

    Rosemary, I can do both (WB and NGDTI). The NGDTI is strange, isn't it because since we are writers, it's what we enjoy doing, so you'd think we'd be eager to get going. But somehow it doesn't quite work that way. In fact I'm doing it now. I should be researching plots for my new novel, but that's such a huge and daunting task that I'll almost (not quite, but almost) do some housework instead!