On Writer’s Block

So much has been written about writer’s block – that gridlocked state of affairs when hand, pen (or keyboard) and the creative brain fail to connect.

It seems to me that the way out of the jam is to create time and space to release the block – it’s literally like unblocking a dam, and the less you’re in your thinking head, the more the imagination flows. Recently, I’d been nose-to-screen and madly writing to deadlines and word counts for too many days in a row. I was so clogged up with ‘work’ writing that when I began to write my blog about Boris Johnson at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, it was like wading in thick treacle. So I surrendered, lay down and listened to a 20-minute Yoga Nidra (a deep relaxation practice) tape and Bob – or should I say Boris – was my uncle. Just twenty minutes away from the screen and out of my busybody head did the trick.

Other blocks to writing can manifest as a lack of self-belief, a fear of failure of getting it wrong or of being judged. About ten years ago I read the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a 12-week course that helps struggling artists to overcome the barriers standing in the way of their creativity. Some may find it a bit self-helpy but I thoroughly recommend it.

Going back to pen and paper...

Going back to pen and paper…

But perhaps it’s the keyboard and the computer and all the stiffness and eye strain that go with screen work that are the real culprits behind writer’s block. Welsh-based Jay Griffiths, author of Wild, spoke eloquently at the Writers’ Festival about writing longhand in pencil and working the words like clay, moulding them, reshaping them, smudging them across the page. The very simplicity of pencil and paper really appeals to me; it’s a much more fluid and visceral approach to writing and you don’t need to plug anything in.

I also keep a quote above my desk by Henry David Thoreau: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” It’s a reminder that you can’t expect to just sit at the computer and conjure up a best-selling novel. You need to get out there and grasp life with both hands. And always take a pencil and notebook with you!