Writer’s block: Part IV
So much fuss over starting a simple task—writing a book. When I was still stuck, I mumbled about this to a young AirBnB guest, who has certainly never written a book in his life. He instructed me with great confidence: “You just need to make time! It’s that simple.”
But no, turns out it’s not that simple.
You also have to really really want to write a book. And apparently I didn’t, not this book, until now.
Looking back three years, I’ve had a year of being old (doing my boot camp); then about a year of refusing to write about the experience in any depth; and then this last year, a year of good old-fashioned writer’s block. In other words, a year of saying What? A year of saying No! A year of saying Yes But…
That’s what I was thinking. But what was I feeling?
Neuroscientist-philosopher Antonio Damasio posits a simple idea that instantly sheds light on great cultural movements and petty daily personal problems such as writer’s block:
[…] feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavors.
His idea is so original (in the world of neuroscience at least) and is so beautifully argued that it will be adopted by the masses and refashioned and misinterpreted and appropriated for many purposes. I am about to do this very thing.
Looking through Damasio’s lens, I can see I’ve been engaged in a struggle to regain homeostasis. I wanted to write because I had decided to write and I love to write. On the other hand, I also did not want to write, because of certain feelings.
Watch out, I am now going to use bullet points.
- I felt strongly attached to early morning exercise, which made me feel strong and proud.
- I felt contempt for the iPad Pro.
- I felt angry with myself for failing to get over writer’s block, and embarrassed too.
- If I should write this book about my boot camp for the bonus years, I feared I might patronise people, or trivialise the terrible challenge of ageing, or come across as a know-it-all or a bully.
Powerful stuff. But month after month I had ignored these feelings, doggedly trying to solve writer’s block through logic and professionalism, and mystified when it just didn’t happen. It was high time I faced up to these feelings. And that’s all I did, nothing more.
What shifts writer’s block?
What kick-started me writing again, quite suddenly one morning? Maybe it was losing stress, or decluttering my mornings, or reverting to an old computer. Maybe it was reading Damasio’s words and acknowledging certain feelings. Maybe it was a few jolts to my security—illnesses and deaths in my world—reminding me that oh yes, I’m going to die soon, today or in 20 years. Anyway, I got going. Something lit the dynamite stacked around my writer’s block.
Next time someone says to me, “I want to write but I can’t find the time,” I will for the first time understand what they mean. In the past this conversation has tended to focus on practical problems, like schedules or computers, or on the type of writing that appeals. But from now on, the first thing I’ll ask will be about their feelings.
As for me, I’m belting along nearly every morning, no problem. Just me and a notebook in bed, then me and the MacBook Pro for a couple of hours. It’s deeply satisfying. Even if I chuck away every page, even if the book is never published, I’m into it. I’ve got my rhythm back. I’ve got my mojo back. The happy act of writing has justified my existence for today.
In general, I believe my own experiences are common ones. I never think my life is at all unusual, and I don’t mind that one bit. But this particular experience, writer’s block, was new to me, so of course I was puzzled. However, I imagine many of my readers have gone through a similar process, either eluding or melting or exploding a case of writer’s block. True? Or have you employed different tactics?
 Antonio Damasio The Strange Nature of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures Pantheon New York 2018
Photo public domain, Charles Darwin, The Expression of The Emotions in Man and Animals