Congratulations to Anne Goodwin for this terrific post, which won second prize in the This Itch of Writing 500th Postiversary Competition. Anne wins a year's free Full Membership of WriteWords, Full Membership of WriteWords, which apart from anything else in the way of Groups, Jobs&Opps, Directory and so on, is the place that about 50% of all my posts here started out, as thinking-aloud-in-the-forum.
What I love about Anne's post is that she acknowledges both ends of the spectrum of what gets said about writer's block, and then unpicks what's really going on, from both her own experience, and one of the central understandings of psychology. So much that's written about writing is binary, either/or, knee-jerk and simpleminded, but this is none of those things. And anything which agrees with Donald Winnicot, and disagrees with cold custard, is hard argue with.
Loving, Hating and Writer's Block
My heart doesn’t skip as I approach the stationery store. When I turn on my computer, it’s only to play games. I envisage gruesome deaths for each of my characters – and I’m writing a love story. The thing that gave my life meaning is making me sick.
Typing my symptoms into my search engine, I’m told it’s writer’s block: a badge of artistic sensitivity – or an excuse for procrastination best treated with a kick up the backside. Helpfully, the Oracle offers some writing exercises designed to get me back in the swing.
Yet I hesitate. If I’m a machine that needs to churn out its day’s quota of polished prose, I need to be fixed, and quickly. But if I’m a quirky human being, full of contradictions, shouldn’t I expect to have an off day or week or year? Writing is a strange marriage of creativity and discipline and we must each find our own way of balancing the mix. Some problems are made worse by attempts to mend them and some of us need to heed our inner tyrants rather less.
When I first started writing, I was dismissive of writer’s block. I saw it as a pretentious term for what ordinary mortals experienced as anything along the continuum from a bit fed up to clinical depression. Until I started hating my novel.
It happened overnight: one minute I was merrily editing, eager to get everything shipshape down to the last comma; the next I could’ve deleted the entire hundred thousand words from my hard drive. Yet nothing had changed, except the time I’d spent nursing it. I was shocked, and a little scared: if I couldn’t love my work, who would?
Intense emotions are difficult, and hate is one of the trickiest. It’s almost bearable if its target is objectively negative, yet even then it leaves us feeling tarnished. How could I place my treasured novel alongside Hitler, child abuse and cold custard? Either my novel was rubbish or I was a hopeless human being.
The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott would have sympathised. He perceived hate, not as the antithesis of love, but as part of the package, especially when that love entails constant drudgery, like a mother’s love for her baby. Or a writer’s love for her novel. How could I not hate the thing that has taken so much from me in terms of time, emotional effort, and limbs that ache from hunching over a keyboard? Hate doesn’t mean I can’t love my writing too.
When a mother’s bogged down by hatred, she needs to acknowledge it so she can pass the baby to someone else and reclaim some me-time. Likewise, when a writer’s blocked, she needs to take stock of her emotions to safeguard herself and her craft.
Hate feels so counterintuitive; it’s almost a betrayal to admit it. Yet I wonder if our hatred of the hate embedded in our passion for writing is the very root of writer’s block.
Anne Goodwin has several short fiction publications to her credit and is currently seeking agency representation for her novel. In a previous incarnation, she worked as a clinical psychologist. She began her blog Annecdotal with great trepidation back in January (2013), but has found it sublimely addictive.