Months ago I sat down with a friend of mine and confessed that I was re-reading The Artist's Way because 'it's very good when you are blocked'. The friend looked up from the coffee and replied: 'Fine, but you're not blocked. You've never been blocked'. These few words startled me into a near-anaphylactic shock. I tried to recover by clutching at more and more straws, talking about occasional bouts of inactivity and a sense of scatterbrained helplessness. I insisted that I needed The Artist's Way and that only by its end would I have been able to write again. It didn't feel right though.
When I returned home I figured out that this blocked thing does not exist, really. Writer's block is thrown around writing circles as much as wheatgrass juice qualified as talking point among wellbeing freaks a few years back. Unlike the juice which, eventually, fell out of fashion, writer's block continues to provide an escape route to writers and would-be writers everywhere. It ranks as high up as 'I don't have time to write' as an excuse, except it is more damaging because more recurrent, more lasting and more accepted. If only we stopped hiding behind this pillar and stepped into the flickering light of the waiting screen...
- I don't know where to start, I'm blocked even before I begin!
- I started and everything was fine but I don't know what else to add, oh no I'm blocked!
- I had a great idea but it took a life of its own, now I am lost and blocked!
- I have almost finished but I can't face it any longer, I must be blocked!
This is the cry of those least used to writing, those who love the idea of setting thoughts to paper or screen, but who discounted what horrid tricks the white expanse can play on one's mind.
Underlying issue: fear to begin.
Solution: start in the middle. Whether you're working in fiction or non-fiction, you can overcome the fear of those damn few lines by foregoing an introduction and by starting in the middle. Remember that to start and to begin are two different things in this instance: it doesn't matter where your piece will eventually start from, what matters to you now is that you begin and anywhere, including the conclusion, will do.
Those who write essays or articles may find themselves in the middle of a drought when they believe that they have run out of things to say. In reality, they are fighting their own ignorance.
Underlying issue: lack of knowledge.
Solution: read more, far and wide, and you will find the way back to your article, argument or thesis.
This is the cry of the fiction writer who soon realises that characters, situations and plots go off on their own. I am not suggesting that this is a bad thing per se, but if you have a tendency to feel at the mercy of your own imagination, you will find that you are not really blocked, but in desperate need of a little forward-planning.
Underlying issue: lack of planning.
Solution: re-assessing the depth and breadth of your project, scaling down or up as necessary and plotting out the main lines of evolution between your sections. And I'll tell you a secret: I detest planning as a general rule, but I have found that even the bare minimum does save lives (especially the ones of those who live in your close proximity).
This is classic procrastination. You know the work isn't ready but aren't prepared to finish it. My friend, you cannot have it both ways, you must go on. It is your job to do and finish the work, not to stress over the critical aftermath which has yet to take place.
Underlying issue: fear of judgment.
Solution: start the last leg of your revisions with a little plan, as per point 3 above, and begin from the smallest of changes, such as editing of one scene only, or checking of bibliography or facts.
The idea of writer's block stems from fear; to be found out as incompetent, as incapable, as an impostor at your own game, as a born procrastinator who does not work but simply plods along with no direction nor purpose; fear of planning, of re-assessing the work, or realising that you've worked for pages and the result must be scrapped, of change and of emotionally independent assessment. I believe all of these to be unfounded; they are mere spectres that hang upon us every time we sit down to work. When in the past I whined about my inability to write anything of note, an editor friend of mine said that the most difficult word is always the first one. To write that first word is the most effective cure for all fears (and for writer's block, no?).