Articles on `Writer’s Block’ are as common among writers as the syndrome itself. Even so, as many working writers continue to struggle with the assorted manifestations of writer’s block, I felt compelled to contribute my own experience, and what I learned from it, to the long list.
Years ago, when my daughter Emily was younger, I would walk her to the bus stop and, on the way, ask her what she’d like me to write for her. I would then take whatever idea she gave me, turn it into a story, and read it to her that night at bedtime. One morning she said something like, “A ghost story about the old house in the woods.” I wrote up a short story, which she liked well enough, but I knew there was much more to the tale than what I’d written. I expanded on the piece but, still, I felt it was not complete. I went on to other pieces and went on with life but that story would not leave me alone. I felt frustrated that I could not write the story the way I seemed to feel it inside of me. It was like I could `see’ the story in my mind but I could not touch it. Every time I went back to the story and tried to make it work the way I thought it should I just wound up making it worse, piling words on top of words, as though excess of expression would somehow bring the story to life on the page. It didn’t, of course, and each separate strategy I applied to make the story what I `knew’ it should be failed just as dismally.
In her book, On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity, Victoria Nelson claims, “Inability to write means that the unconscious self is vetoing the program demanded by the conscious ego.” Too often, whether in our writing or simply life, we expect – even demand – that things go the way we feel they `should’ go instead of listening for, and accepting, how things are. My problem with that story was precisely my conscious ego demanding the story behave as it should instead of listening to the characters and telling their story. The writer’s block I was experiencing wasn’t so much a `block’ in writing as it was a signal that I was going in the wrong direction. Once I stopped trying to make the tale my story I was able to hear the main character’s voice telling me hers. That story is now my novel, The Girl from Yesterday, coming out this month through Trestle Press.
That experience with this particular work taught me to listen more carefully to what I feel in a story and set aside whatever preconceived notions I may have of what the story `should’ be about. I recognized that every time I had ever experienced so-called `writer’s block’ it was because I was doing more thinking than feeling in my work. I was trying to make my fictional world in my image instead of allowing it be what it was. I think if writer’s block is understood as a good thing, as a signal that one’s present attitude toward the work is the wrong one, a writer can learn to listen to it instead of trying to fight against it.
Joshua J. Mark is a freelance writer with over twenty years experience who has lived in Greece and Germany, traveled through Egypt and Scotland, and, presently, lives in upstate New York, USA with his family. His published works include `A Joke’, through Trestle Press, `To Memory’ through Edge Piece Magazine, `Civil Serpents’ through Open Heart Publishing, `After the Funeral’ through Five Stop Stories, and `When There Were Trees’ through Writes For All Magazine, as well as other stories through print and on-line. Mark is also a site moderator for, and has been published in, Ancient History Encyclopedia where he writes primarily on Mesopotamia, Greece, and Egypt. He is a part-time teacher of philosophy and writing at Marist College. His Paranormal Young Adult novel, The Girl from Yesterday, is soon to be published through Trestle Press.