Writer’s Block is Not Just a Half-Baked Myth

For a long time writer’s block was about as real for me as the tooth fairy, who is without a doubt the least unconvincing magical creature of American childhood. What could a magical fairy ever want with piles of slimy little teeth? And that fairy has unlimited access to the bedrooms of every single child in the world so s/he must know what kinds of seriously gross stuff kids stick in their months all the time. Plus those teeth are gross — dentists, understanding those teeth won’t be there for the long haul, don’t even bother to fill in kids’ cavities anymore. It’s so obvious that kids only pretend to believe in the tooth fairy because they haven’t yet learned that it’s not worth it to squander their dignity for a couple bucks.

The premise is a dud. A totally unbelievable myth.

Until earlier this year, I felt the same way about writer’s block.

Back then writer’s block just was a particularly yawn-inducing excuse for not writing. “I really wanted to write a draft of a new short story,” a self-proclaimed “blocked” writer might confide in me, “but this damn writer’s block made it impossible so instead I went to Portland to take a workshop on beehive cultivation.”

“Just admit you’re more interested in beehives at the moment than writing,” I would think while holding my tongue. No matter who said it, or in what context, writer’s block always felt like an excuse. Let’s face it, there are countless interesting activities out there in the world to engage in and writing is definitely not always one of them. Come on people, I would want to yell, just own up to your lack of motivation to write and move on with your lives.

But then something insidious happened during my last two quarters as an MFA student. I would sit down to work on whatever story or essay I had on the docket, and no matter what, I would feel absolutely terrible. Like some invisible giant had wrapped me bear hug and was slowly squeezing every last bit of oxygen out of my lungs. I would type a sentence. Stare it. Erase it. Retype it. Erase it. DO it over again, this time with new syntax. Stare it. Change an adjective. Add a new clause at the end. Stare at it. Erase it. An hour would pass, and then two. The only evidence of my efforts would be a single sentence that I could no longer even bear to look at.

I would return to the blank page, my breath constricting further, dread pinning me down to where I sat, heaviness anchored throughout my bones.

At the time, I thought it was my looming thesis deadline that was provoking these feelings in me. Or that maybe I had chosen the wrong thesis project to work on. Or maybe I was suffering from too much caffeine and too little sleep. I slogged my way to graduation and promised myself things would get better.

But they didn’t. In the months that followed, the situation actually worsened. Without the pressure of a deadline, three hours might produce a single page of writing. Maybe even only a paragraph, which I would inevitably delete the next day.

I wasn’t writing anymore. I was practicing self-erasure.

I told myself it would pass and focused on reading instead of writing. Initially there was the excitement of filling my head with beautiful sentences and getting reacquainted with writers I love, but within a couple weeks the dread returned — and this time it included a hefty dose of inadequacy. Reading only further highlighted what I felt were my personal weaknesses as a writer.

Somehow I had become toxic to myself, both as a reader and a writer. I don’t know if it was the MFA, or just some terrible part of my personality that had suddenly reared its ugly head, like when an X-ray mistakenly reveals that the strange bump near your tail bone is actually the fetal bones of your vanished twin.

Whatever the cause for my problem, I had to find a way out of it. I tried yoga, long walks, funny movies. Nothing worked.

The term writer’s block is somewhat of a misnomer. To me it feels nothing like a block.

Instead it feels like a voracious parasite that hatches in your brain, a parasite feasts on words, swallowing them up whole and leaving behind disgusting little turds that muck up any part of your brain’s circuitry related to language, clogging up your left frontal cortex until its about as usable a campsite latrine in late September.

You could go in there, but you sure as hell don’t want to.

No wonder that for the writer’s block sufferer even scraping the crusty remnants of dinner from the pots and pans in the kitchen sink can hold more appeal than crafting sentences.

In the Writer’s Cooperative, Tiffany Sun published a great article yesterday on writer’s block. “Writer’s block,” says Sun, “is a nasty thing that destroys writers from within.” I applaud her for owning up to how perfectionism can fuel writer’s block and I’m eager to put to work some of the “hacks” she suggests for defeating writer’s block. I used to love to write, and I refuse to believe that I have stopped loving writing. I’m not going to let my own unruly brain steal something so precious from me. And I’m no longer going to pass judgment on anyone who complains of writer’s block. The tooth fairy might be half-baked myth, but writer’s block is very real.

To check out Tiffany Sun’s suggestions for defeating Writer’s Block, read her story here: https://writingcooperative.com/how-to-defeat-writers-block-once-and-for-all-65fb430097fb#.1ddbxxgru

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