Sunday, October 26, 2008

Present Influences on Our Writing/Writers Block

"The future influences the present just as much as the past." When this quote by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche came up in my cryptoquote for the day, it seemed fitting. Like most working class Americans, my present decisions are being influenced by the forecasts of a future financial recession. I don't know if that is what he meant or whether I agree with him. It seems to me that the future, not having occurred yet, could not possibly affect the present as much as the past does. I guess he means our fear (which may be influenced by the past), our hope, goals, and plans for the future influence what we do now.

An interesting question raised in our writers group last week related this quote to the dreaded writer's block. We were discussing why some authors of one successful book stop writing. "Does success overwhelm the author to the point she is afraid to try again?" Afraid of what? Afraid that she cannot duplicate the former success? Or afraid he won't live up to his fans' expectations? Afraid of the publicity she must face as a successful author? We may never know all the reasons. Even the author may not know why, for the underlying cause may be deeply subconscious.

We wonder why Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) quit writing. I know only what I read in a biography. "Although her first novel gained a huge success, Lee did not continue her career as a writer. She returned from New York to Monroeville, where she has lived avoiding interviews." Other very talented authors I know seem to experience a writer's block after a first very well written and much loved novel. Why? I'd have to ask them, but for this discussion, I'll just surmise the possible reasons, dividing them into influences from the past, the future, and the present.

The fears I spoke of in the preceding paragraph belong to the future. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of the unknown that has us busy with self-preservation. Another future-related reason for not writing may be simply moving on to new interests and goals to fill ones' days and satisfy the soul.

Writer's block that relates to the past include those demons of doubt I talk about in my workshops. Voices instilled by authority figures and peers when we were very young. "You are never going to amount to anything," we may have heard, and when we are very young, we believe everything we hear. "You can't do that." "No one is interested in what you have to say." and my favorite, "Who do you think you are?" with all it's negative implications. Lies all, but somehow they get stuck in our heads, and when we least expect it, whisper their ominous warnings. The voice that says, "It has all been said before. You can't write anything original, so don't waste your time," makes it hard to write anything. Another voice, "If you can't do it right, don't do it at all," creates a perfectionism that keeps us from trying, or causes us to scrap our efforts in frustration, when they don't meet our very high standard of what "should" be.

The present, however, may hold as many blocks to our writing as those related to the past or the future. One may be simply that we have run out of things to say. We've used up our ideas and need to put down the pen to replenish the supply with fresh experiences. A current crisis such as an acute health problem, an accident, a relationship problem, a loved one in trouble, may absorb us completely. When the latter is the case, we may find release in writing about it, or it may be too close to us for writing to be possible at the present time.

If you are experiencing writer's block for any of the present, past, or future reasons, the worst thing you can do is to flagellate yourself. Be kind, give yourself some slack, or you are just exacerbating the problem. Approach the keyboard or the pen with gratitude, the anticipation of pleasure, and the permission to write badly, briefly, and just for your own fulfillment. Remove the censor and the taskmaster. And let yourself know. "If I don't write, it doesn't mean I'm a bad person. If I write, I have the choice of allowing it to be read or not."

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."– C.S. Lewis

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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Greg Octocus
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