I had a severe case of writer’s block that lasted for about eleven years. Though a more accurate term in my case might have been “writer’s anorexia” since my specific problem was that I wouldn’t let myself write.
I wanted to write fiction, and I would force myself not to. I had come to the conviction that writing fiction was a selfish and wasteful act on my part (however, fiction writing was to be admired when done by others), and that I had no right to be doing it. So I told myself it was forbidden to me.
So what followed was eleven years of me denying the urge for months on end (usually around five or six), until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then I’d grab a pen and paper and write for a page or two. And then I’d make myself drop the pen and shove the paper away–and that was that until the pain got too great again. I’d tell myself 1) that I was being selfish and it was time to get back to work on more important things, and 2) the last thing this suffering world needed was another fiction writer.
I was finally brought face-to-face with my own self-punishment after I began a theology program for laypeople (Education for Ministry, run by the University of the South). We had to do personal autobiographies and essays, study Scripture in depth, and learn how to do theological reflection under the guidance of a mentor.
It takes time to undo a block; the worse the block, the more effort required to break it. The kind of virulent block I describe above typically takes therapy, a support group, or a program like ARTIST’S WAY to get out of. (Note: I am reading and doing ARTIST’S WAY right now to see how it is, and will blog on it when done. So far, there are parallels between the book and the theology program I was in.)
Healing does not happen overnight. In my case, it took years to undo the damage, but with time my block went from being the “anorexic” kind to the more traditional “I want to write but can’t” kind to the “I’m scared to death to show my work to other human beings” kind.
There are great books out there for the latter two types of blocks that I’ve blogged about already. Make sure to explore 1) Ralph Keyes, THE COURAGE TO WRITE and THE WRITER’S BOOK OF HOPE, 2) Jerrold Mundis, BREAK WRITER’S BLOCK NOW, and 3) Dorothea Brande, BECOMING A WRITER. I made sure to categorize and tag them under “psychology of writing”.
I’ve found that a block can come back, but if you keep aware of the warning signs and take action to treat it, it can be shortened to a few days.
Right now I’m in the very last stages of dealing with submissions block. One of the reasons I started blogging was to deal with it on a regular basis. Doing the thing you fear most in small manageable steps tends to drain the terror away with the passage of time. When I started this blog, I was so nervous I thought I’d pass out. And I did get a bout of blogger’s block and had to learn to work past it.
Anyways, if anyone suffering from writer’s block finds this blog post, here’s a message for you:
Don’t give up, it can be treated.
Be gentle with yourself.
There are teachers and therapists you can turn to for help if the block is nasty and has lasted for years.