It is that sinister feeling that you cannot write anymore and that the end of the world is near.
Yes, I am a writer, who has tried her hand at everything – poetry, prose, essays, fiction, non-fiction, plays and biographies, writing with an untethered, exhilarating passion about anything that catches my fancy. And, let me confess, almost everything has caught my fancy. Be it a magical moonbeam, a sparkling sunray, a swaying sunflower, a thrush trilling, a rippling or a roaring river. Even a pup running after a paunchy man! I have always been on the lookout for an appropriate moment to pen my thoughts – in a running train, bus or taxi or even mid-air!
Some years back, I delivered a TEDx talk: The Myth of Writer’s Block. And when many of my students heard it, they vehemently shook their heads, saying: “Madam, writer’s block is definitely not a myth; it is real.”
But, no matter what my students say, I continue to subscribe to the robust belief that writer’s block is just another name for the monsters of negativity stalking one, and this basically stems from the fear of failure. The first step in the direction of removing this fear is, yes, writing.
What Exactly is Writer’s Block?
It is that sinister feeling that you cannot write anymore, and that the end of the world is near. Many allegedly suffer from a week long block, many a year, and many have an unending bout with writer’s block. What if this block never goes? Many shudder at this possibility and spend sleepless nights steering clear of writing.
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece. Wikipedia calls it a creative slowdown.”
American author Megan Spooner says: “Writer’s block is just a fancy way of saying I don’t feel like doing any work.”
Their belief in the writer’s block unapologetically wavering, my students kept yelling: “Madam, you cannot deny that there is something called the Blank Page Syndrome.”
Okay, if there is a blank page, go and fill it. Simple as that! “See, there is no blank page now,” I said. My rejoinder has put them on the defensive. But they have a counterargument: where is the time?
Then don’t put the blame of your inability to write at the mythical gate of writer’s block.
My very prolific writer friend, Richard Doiron, who has many books to his credit, says: “I was never intimidated by a blank page. I put the date at the top and my name at the bottom, and there I go. One thing I discovered along the line was that if I throw 12, 16, 20 random words at the top of a page, magic happens, and I have been tested with that by total strangers for years; they send me 12 or more words and something happens. I once did 12 poems in a day for total strangers.”
He further says that he started writing about 62 years ago, and forgot to stop, and he once suffered a writer’s block, which lasted exactly 20 minutes!
So, I am absolutely convinced, it is the writer alone who can remove the block – simply by writing.
Harsh criticism is something which writers are wary of, and in order to shield themselves from this, they unconsciously stop writing and tinker with what-if possibilities. That is when the so-called writer’s block raises its ugly head, trying to intimidate the writer. There is always scope for editing, honing, culling, tweaking, so why consider the piece of writing the final draft! Consider it only the first.
Some of the readers might smirk thinking that I am talking through my hat. I am merely talking through experience.
Get Over It
I have always found the writer’s block to be a myth and an excuse for procrastination. Sometimes, this so-called block also occurs because one cannot find the right word and, for this, poor vocabulary is to be blamed.
I have also realized that changing gears on the road to writing is very fruitful.
When I get bored writing poetry, I switch over to prose and when that gets on my nerves, I start working on my other manuscript, shifting gears all the time.
When I was working on Gandhi’s poetic biography, Ballad of Bapu, I was simultaneously working on my novella, A Skyful of Balloons and also a book of poems, Where are the Lilacs? Ballad of Bapu, involved a lot of research, and when the research became tiring, I would immediately change gears to my novel, where I would soon get involved in the traits of different characters and be reinvigorated.
I was able to finish all my manuscripts, not once having come across any intimidating block.
It is futile to dwell on the same scene, or try to hunt for that perfect opening line that one dreams will make the reading world sit up and notice.
Some might retort that not everyone is working on many manuscripts simultaneously. My answer to that is: but one is definitely working on many ideas, simultaneously. The mind is always meandering. Don’t allow it to stick to just one lane. Keep changing lanes, for that infusion of greater gusto.
Let me cite another instance. Some years back, I started writing a poem on social media in installments. This became an award- winning 100 page spooky, and surreal poem, Oh Hark! During its writing, not once did I suffer from the writer’s block and I believe it was my intense passion that kept me going.
I often tell my students not to think of being perfect. Perfection is as much a myth as writer’s Block. I beseech you, do not allow the fingers to travel away from the keyboard for long, but don’t let writing become stressful.
At times, we procrastinate, and then the stress of not having written for a long time becomes so overwhelming that we tend to panic.
Yes, I also remember saying something which triggered a lot of laughter. Everyone has a favorite singer, but it is no harm experimenting and switching loyalties. If you are listening to Cliff Richard, don’t just listen to Congratulations and Celebration, or Bachelor Boy or Please don’t tease me. Keep shifting – changing gears.
You don’t need to shift loyalties. But you need to shift. On second thought, Cliff Richard won’t mind if you shift to Frank Sinatra! Or Muhammad Rafi won’t mind if you shift to Kishore Kumar or Manna Dey.
Moreover, throughout the day, ideas keep popping in the mind. We need to jot down those ideas, so that they are not lost.
It was Maya Angelou who once remarked tongue-in-cheek: “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, ‘that the cat sat on the mat, not a rat.’ It might be just the most boring and awful stuff … I just write. And then as if the muse is convinced that I am serious, it says okay. okay, I’ll come.”
Let me speak from experience again. The secret lies in passion not in a lackadaisical approach, short cuts, or half- hearted attempts. If there is no round- eyed excitement, no adrenaline rush, no impatient tingling in the fingers, all sorts of blocks might attack you not just the writer’s block. Annie Dillard says that the sensation of writing is “handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain and then – and only then- it is handed to you.” So, “the answer, my friend is blowin’ in the wind.”
Pick that pen and go haywire. Your untethered passion will remove all the blocks.
Listen to James Thurber – ‘don’t get it right. just write’.
Give full rein to the horses of imagination; let them gallop and canter; initially, they might whinny rebelliously, but will eventually listen to your cajoling words, and, hey, presto! All the so-called blocks will tumble down, and blank pages will be filled. Just give it a try!
Santosh Bakaya is an internationally acclaimed poet and author.