Connect with us


The writer’s block



We often read our favourite novel and are mesmerised by its flow of language and artistic cohesion and feel that since it is an easy read, where the story comes from, more stories could be flowing fast and in our direction! That is why the writer is often asked by the admirers, “When is the next novel?”

How wrong we can be! Many writers often suffer from an impediment called the writer’s block. The writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author is unable to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown.

The writer’s block, as this state is commonly known, is defined in Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.” It affects writers in all stages of their career. The block is not merely measured by time passing without writing. It is also measured by time passing without productivity in the task at hand.

It is said that in the early centuries writers did not understand much about this condition and often they assumed the writer’s block was due to a power from above that did not want them to write anymore. The block appears to have become slightly more recognised during the time of the French symbolists who had famously recognised poets that gave up writing early into their career because they couldn’t find the language to convey their message.

With time it was found that this creative stall is not a result of commitment problems or the lack of writing skills. In fact, the condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce any work for years. Writer’s block is not solely measured by time passing without writing. It is measured by time passing without productivity in the task at hand.

In a 1994 interview with Claudia Dreifus, the great African-American writer Toni Morrison said she dreaded the term writer’s block but goes to say there are times when as a writer you don’t know what you’re doing or when you don’t have access to the language or the event.

She goes on, “When I wrote Beloved, I thought about it for three years. I started writing the manuscript after thinking about it, and getting to know the people and getting over the fear of entering that arena, and it took me three more years to write it. But those other three years I was still at work, though I hadn’t put a word down.” It may mean that you may only defeat the writer’s block if you are really committed to the story that you are writing.

Writing in The Washington Post on the 16th of February 1998, Charles Trueheart comes very to suggesting that the great African novelist, Chinua Achebe himself must have fallen under the spell of the writer’s because it took Achebe fifteen years to come up with his 1988 novel, Anthills of the Savannah. It is said that Achebe started on this novel when he was doing a teaching stint at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Suddenly, he put it aside, half finished, for more than a decade — during which time he wrote children’s books, essays, poems, almost everything but novels — then returned to it a few years later in a fever.

“I wrote nonstop for six months. That’s very fast for me,” Achebe is quoted. Achebe is clearly happy to have finished the story which had almost died!

One of Zimbabwe’s greatest writers, Charles Mungoshi, had this to say about the writer’s block: “It is one of the worst things that can happen and often happens – to fall into doldrums, that scary place where nothing happens at all, yet you are screaming at the top of your voice, “I want to get out!” I have since heard it called a writer’s block, mental block or a creative block. The same thing, really. I didn’t know its name when I first came to it. (Now we are familiars!) I was so scared I sweated. I thought I would never write again.”
Mungoshi continues, “Ndiko Kupindana Kwemazuva had just been published. And then I found myself completely dry.

Each time I wrote something down, I quickly destroyed it in disgust. Anything I wrote looked like the worst thing I had done in my life. I became depressed. I was scared of my writing desk.”
On being asked how a writer could overcome the block, Mungoshi says, “As soon as you are refreshed, come back to your desk and look at your story again. Change a few things. So you really have to begin at the beginning, you may find that you need to change its point of view.

Point of view is, simply, the way your story “interprets the world”. Who is talking? By changing who is talking in your story, you are, let’s hope, forced to see the same story through other eyes, as it were. Please try to be patient and gentle with yourselves. Listen.”
Neil Gaiman, the award-winning graphic novelist and children’s author, has the hibernation strategy which could be similar to that being suggested by Charles Mungoshi, somehow.

He says: “Put it [your writing] aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.”

Tariro Ndoro, a much younger writer, says she thinks there are two types of writer’s block: not having anything to write and not knowing how to write your story. With the former, Tariro learnt from Kim Adonnizio’s ‘Poet’s Companion’ that writing is like a car and sometimes we run out of fuel!
“So, you need to find ways to refill. Personally, I read diversely. I read anthologies and journals, which have a wide array of writing styles and voices. If I come across something that moves me, this inspires me to write.

Sometimes, simply getting away from my desk and living life brings some inspiration.”
Ernest Hemingway, the great American writer admits that the writer’s block is real. But his advice suggests that the writer must desist from overworking and has to know when to break from writing his story before he is actually exhausted.

He says: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”

The other way to beat the block really is to find out really why one has been blocked! The following are considered to be the questions that the writer under this spell ought to ask himself; “Do I feel pressure to succeed and/or compete with other writers?”

Indeed writers often fall under pressure to write a better book than the books on the market. According to Reedsy editor, Lauren Hughes, blocks often occur because writers put a lot of pressure on themselves to sound ‘right’ the first time. That means a good way is to loosen up and have fun again and give yourself permission to write imperfectly.

The other question to ask yourself could be; “Have I lost sight of what my story is about, or interest in where it’s going?” It happens often that a writer, due to the social changes in his own life, may suddenly feel that he has lost interest in the story that he is writing. Sometimes you actually wonder exactly what is going to be achieved through a particular story!

Other self introspective questions are necessary and these are: “Do I lack confidence in my own abilities, even if I’ve written plenty before?”Or, “Have I not written for so long that I feel intimidated by the mere act?” Then: “Am I simply feeling tired and run-down?”

It is also important to understand that a writer’s block manifests itself in various ways and the earlier one knows, the better. Well, here are some personal experiences. You may sometimes actually feel very motivated and obsessed with your story but failing to be creative. You are full of the story but every time you write you feel that you are not properly representing the inspiration that is boiling inside you.

Sometimes it comes across as self-doubt. It is that voice that pursues you saying, you have never set your story in the city. When people read this, they will catch you! So stop, pack and go and wait for another countryside story because you understand the countryside more than any other space… It means that as a writer, you may need to find ways of silencing this voice. Gently, of course!

Or, sometimes as a writer the block comes because you may simply be exhausted! Let’s face it: this world was not built for writers. Very few of us have the luxury of dedicating our entire lives to literature: we have jobs to work, bills to pay, kids to raise, and thousands of decisions to make. When we find time to sit at the writing desk, we don’t always have the energy to write. Our personal and professional lives are often what cause writer’s block. If this is the case, but you really want to write, then take a step back and focus on your needs first. Try to block out some time, even just five minutes, to dream on the page before going to sleep.

But then you may be simply unsure what is causing your block! If all writers knew the reason they couldn’t write, then they’d know how to cure writer’s block. Sadly, this isn’t the case. It might take a couple of weeks to diagnose yourself with writer’s block, and it might take a couple more weeks after that to figure out the block. This is something that, sooner or later, most writers grapple with.

But Maya Angelou, the writer of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, while acknowledging the existence of the block, is actually tough with herself. She insists that you should force yourself to continue writing every day, no matter if you’re pleased with the final product or not. She says: “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try.

When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’
Maybe Charles Bukowski could applaud me for this essay as he once said, “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all!”

Memory Chirere

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Copyright © 2022. The Post Newspaper. All Rights Reserved