Thursday, June 01, 2006

Melly's Eating Her Hat (but only half of it) - More on Writer's Block

A while back, I wrote a post about writer's block in it I spilled all my anger at these two seemingly innocent little words.
My claim was that us writers can overcome writer's block if we choose to. I blamed mostly laziness, I believe.

Two days ago, I also wrote about hypergraphia, the drive to write compulsively. When I quoted the definition, I left out the last sentence and promised to explain later.
Here's a refresher, with the last sentence this time:
Hypergraphia - The driving compulsion to write; the overwhelming urge to write […] the opposite of writer's block.

Lo and behold - writer's block as a disorder. Actually, writer's block isn't an illness, or an actual, real, neurological disorder like hypergraphia, yet, its causes might still be biochemical.

There may be two types of writer's block - low and high energy relating to depression and anxiety respectively.

Depression, known to afflict writers at a higher rate than the general population, can also mimic mild frontal lobe damage or change, hence the biochemical roots.

Since it is known that depression causes lack of motivation, initiative and energy, as well any decision making capabilities and emotionally drain the person, rather than staying at a desk full of self criticism, interruptions might be welcome to combat this type of writer's block.

This kind of depression is also usually treatable. Not only that, it is more often than not also bipolar and the writing happens at the other end of the depression. And I'll leave that at that.

Anxiety is the other trigger of writer's block and the one that personally I believe I may suffer from on occasion.

How anxious one is, is usually in direct relation to the size and importance of the project. Anxiety, almost like stage fright, can cause too much or too little motivation, both possible sources of blocks. Guilt only makes it worse, by the way, and procrastination is the major symptom.

Another symptom of anxiety-induced writer's block is the ability to write one type/genre, say, blog posts, while being blocked for another, say current novel wip. Outlines and brainstorming can help against such a writer's block but one shouldn't neglect other possible causes that may affect the mental state such as proper lighting in the winter etc.

And procrastination? What do we do about that? One way to battle procrastination caused by anxiety is to think of another project, bigger, more demanding and frightening. The idea is to trigger anxiety that working back on your original project you avoided would be a way to procrastinate that new big one. Your original project becomes the fun project, the one you waste time with and avoid deadlines, the one that's easier to work on. Apparently it works.

Finally, it is a fact that talented writers are more likely to be blocked than poor writers. So if you're blocked often, you must be real talented...

New York Times
Boston News
Read the rest

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redchurch said...

Interesting post Mel...

I'm not sure about you or the rest, but the biggest stumbling block is focusing on the void itself.

Let me use an example.

In my current novel, I have a scene I want to write. That scene needs to be sandwiched between other scenes which I have no ideas for right now. So instead of just writing the scene I know, and seeing where that takes me, I end up focusing on the 'problem' - these two dead scenes on the other side of the scene I'm sure about. I'm quite literally focusing on the void, or a brick wall.

The solution here is to pick your battles. Go with your strengths. Go with what you have, instead of focusing on what you don't have.

When you don't know what direction to take, focus on areas of the story where you DO have a direction. Don't languish in void-land, in other words.

Sometimes the problem is that we're focusing too much on the problem itself--if you get what I mean.

Is writers block compounded by focusing on the block itself? What if you just 'ignored' the block, and worked on areas of the story you are excited about and have strong ideas for?

But that could just be me. Does any of this make sense?

Melly said...

Makes a lot of sense, Eric.
Guilt or dwelling or wallowing never helps, so what you say about focusing on the strong suits makes a lot of sense.

redchurch said...

An analogy might be food. Staring at the empty cupboard or refridgerator doesn't fill your growling stomach.

Much like the human body... creativity needs food, nourishment. It can be anything from the tiniest of grapes or a peanut to a lavish seven-course dinner.

At either extreme, your body has something to work with.

Dealing with writers block is like trying to make decisions on an empty stomach. There's nothing. No fuel. No gas. The needle is sitting at empty. It can be an emotional or depression issue. But sometimes it's also just a rote matter of problem-solving--like staring down an equation on the blackboard. You just can't crack it. Your mind is blank.

For me, it's more often that my mind is blank or I just can't come up with an idea--because I had no ideas to begin with! That's the secret, I think. You need something. Some small nugget to start with. I think almost any writer can work with the tiniest sliver of an idea. But there has to be something. You can't work with a blank slate.

So if your mental fridge is empty, fill it! Or find a crumb to work with. If you were starving, a small scrap of food might keep you alive five more minutes, or one more day! Something is better than nothing.

Grab onto whatever scrap of idea you might have, and work with that. Make it last.

In either case it's better than staring at an empty page.

rdl said...

Another great post! Not knowing the stats on depression i hesitate to disagree with yr. statement about it being more often part of bipolar; but it seems to me alot of people just suffer from the garden variety of depression or dysthymia(?sp)-low grade variety rather than clinical(especially the artist types).
Being the queen of procrastionation- I can always find something else to do rather than the task at hand.
I especially love the ending tho - about talented writers being blocked more than poor writers. Nice job, making us feel better about all this. :D

Anonymous said...

The best cure for writer's block for me is to stop trying. I go do something else. The next time I try, the creativity might be flowing better.

BTW, I'm stopping over from Flood's site.

Fred Charles said...

I have a hard time coming up with blog posts but is it because I have writer's block or is it because nothing really that interesting has happened to me since my last post? Who knows.

Melly said...

Eric, I like your analogy and your way of dealing with it. Anything that works is the right way to tackle it and any input is greatly appreciated and welcome :)

rdl, thanks :)
I'm sorry. I probably wasn't clear enough (the post was already very long) but from what I've read, it didn't say that all depression is bipolar but usually the kind that afflicts writers and that's why they actually manage to write a lot, on the up side. Again, I don't know the numbers myself (out of all writers who have depression - how many are bipolar?)
I'm happy you found the compliment. I meant it whole heartedly! ;)

Jason, 'walking away' is something I also often do. I do something else. Judging from your blog (been lurking a while :) it sure is working for you.

The question is, Fred, can these be one and the same? If you weren't blocked, perhaps your breakfast would have made an interesting thing that happened you could blog about. I don't know. Then again, perhaps they're two different things like you're saying, in which case, breakfast is breakfast.

Carter said...

Clinical depression is often referred as uni-polar, which means that the up-swing ends at what could be considered "normal"m instead of swinging all the way over to mania. That's what I have. As far as numbers and percentages go, though, you're on your own. I would be interested in hearing about them if they exist.

My blocks are most often caused by depression and often lead into a self-reinforcing cycle of self-blame and further depression. I tend to consider writer's block a symptom rather than a syndrome. Getting to the root of the problem will clear the block.

Melly said...

Carter, I don't have any numbers, but thanks for the input and explanation.
Yeah, I hear what you're saying about not calling it a syndrome. What I've read is that they compare it to insomnia where many things can cause insomnia. Is that a syndrome or a symptom? Sometimes it's confusing.

Fred Charles said...

Funny you should use the breakfast example. I had the worst breakfast this morning. It was horrible.

Nienke said...

Okay, now I have to live up to being talented! Now, to find meds or naturopathic aids...
Great post Melly!

Melly said...

Oh, tell me about it, Fred ;)

LOL Nienke, but you do live up to being talented :)