Three hours of my day today were spent sitting in a waiting room, blowing through a mini toilet roll one minute in every thirty, and then twiddling my thumbs for the remaining twenty-nine. No, I wasn’t caught driving after a few cheeky martinis – I was having a breath test of a different kind: a hydrogen breath test in an attempt to work out whether the wackiness of my gut owed to an intolerance to lactose (and yes it did!). But more of that another time.
Speaking of time, I obviously had a lot of it and being a writer, my mind turned to writerly things, one of which was the novel I’m working on (more of that another time too). Before I could even test out my novel’s waters with a sneaky little ankle dip though (my characters and plot have a life of their own – I never know how I’m going to find them from one day to the next) a pang of intense ‘something indescribable’ hit me in my gut and chest simultaneously – and no, it wasn’t a reaction to the test. It did, however, knock the hydrogen right out of me and left me feeling kind of… empty… no, hollow. Just like a little toilet roll but I wasn’t hollow with air. I was hollow with something else; something far more tangible and affecting. A something that ran so deep within me it had paralysed me. Literally (I couldn’t get off the waiting room couch to get a drink of water).
It was only after I’d calmed myself down (deep breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth) that I registered exactly what was going on: I’d had a pang of writer’s block. No, you heard me right. Not a panic attack but writer’s block, which got me thinking: does writer’s block even exist or is it yet another fancy term that we’ve come up with for something far simpler?
Writer’s block, as we now call it, has been around forever. Hemingway experienced it, as did Woolf and Tolstoy. It’s nothing new. But what is new, is the approach that we’ve started taking to it. Not only does it have its very own wikipedia page (!) but there are now ‘remedies’ for it floating around the internet as though it were an ailment or illness (write at the same time each day, take a walk, have a coffee – and the list goes on). Taking things a bit too far? Me thinks so.
It’s not that I don’t believe that writer’s block exists. I’m a writer. I know that it does. I’ve sat there for endless hours, chewing on the end of my parker pen until my teeth hurt, writing and re-writing the same opening sentence. What I don’t believe though, is that it’s as chronic, debilitating and pathological a phenomenon as it’s portrayed to be. I think the more we create a hype around it, the more it will perpetuate itself (i.e. I tell you not to think about pink elephants so what do you think about? Pink elephants!).
In my three ponderous hours today, I had an epiphany. In my moment of frozen panic, where I hollowed out and filled with “something tangible and affecting”, I had actually filled with… fear. What I had experienced wasn’t writer’s block at all but rather, me being scared shitless. I was having an off day; a day where my novel was greater than me and where the mere thought of wading even just ankle deep in its vicinity was petrifying. And so the spiral began, albeit unconsciously. Where do I pick up? Is this character even any good? Should I bother continuing? What if I end up writing something terrible? What if I don’t end up writing anything at all? I think you get the picture.
So, writer or not, next time you have your own little mother’s / teacher’s / doctor’s / dancer’s / plumber’s (!) block, remember me. Think of me in that little waiting room, first having my pseudo writer’s block and then having my epiphany (after a few good, deep breaths) and capitalise on it – I’ve done the hard work for you. Don’t wait for the fear to consume you; stop it in its tracks, acknowledge it and get on with your mumming / teaching / healing / dancing / plumbing. It’s only fear. It. Is. Only. Fear.
Happy braving xx