Writer’s block is generally used to refer to someone who once used creativity in a productive way but loses the ability to produce new work. The absence of consensus about cause and remedy has emboldened this writer to add to the discussion. I write as a retired psychiatrist now restored to my default identity: English major.
Suggested causes of writer’s block range from the psychoanalytic to cynical dismissals of the condition as a myth. Most common are explanations based on the effects of anxiety and stress, sometimes involving unrealistic demands to produce, sometimes about extraneous pressures.
Some explanations fault the design of the brain. One area of the brain simply can’t function when another is engaged in a certain way. I won’t go into detail here because my medical training tells me such explanations are forced and not compelling.
Lacking consensus, I think there is room for another wrinkle in the fabric. My idea comes from the realization that I have been least productive in my writing during the times in my life when I felt fulfilled and happy in the other dimensions of my life.
A common assumption is that some forms of creativity flow from conflict. A corollary is that good writing needs conflict. So, if one is too “fat and happy”, does this get in the way?
Two examples from my own personal experience. In my thirties, having published nothing, I had reams of notebooks of prose and poetry awaiting discovery and acclaim. Then I graduated from medical training and got a rewarding job, simultaneous with helping bring a daughter into the world. Happy times. Not stress free, but fulfilling. Important doctor and doting dad. I quit writing for a decade.
But unfiltered adoration of a three-year-old for her dad soon enough gives way to teen stuff and soon after that comes FAFSAs, college dorms, and the empty nest. Plenty to write.
More recently, after four self-published novels, one of which won a national indie-book award, I hit another wall. My brother died and I became executor of his very complex and contested estate.
Surprisingly, despite the grief from the loss of my older brother, and the remarkable amount of time required for serving as executor, I found this role fulfilling. I succeeded in an unfamiliar landscape, doing something important for my brother and family. I joined the ranks of the few who can define “Letters Testamentary” and “per stirpes.”
Bestriding this new world, I became measurably puffed up with self-importance. And my blog went dead for a year; I could edit past work but could not find new ideas.
So, if productive creativity lies is some sweet spot mid-way between abject misery and transcendental joy and inner peace, what does that say about how to get beyond writer’s block? The misery part is more easily addressed. From standard stress reduction approaches, through practical writing hygiene suggestions, relief is on the way. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is perhaps the best packaged set of remedies for creativity enhancement.
For the too-much-happiness problem, I think time will take care of that. The Furies are still out there, and we’re all guilty of something, and deserving of their attention.
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I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.