Writer's Block - Causes of Writer's Block

Causes of Writer's Block

Writer's block may have many or several causes. Some are essentially creative problems that originate within an author's work itself. A writer may run out of inspiration. The writer may be greatly distracted and feel he or she may have something that needs to be done beforehand. A project may be fundamentally misconceived, or beyond the author's experience or ability. A fictional example can be found in George Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, in which the protagonist Gordon Comstock struggles in vain to complete an epic poem describing a day in London: "It was too big for him, that was the truth. It had never really progressed, it had simply fallen apart into a series of fragments." Additionally, Peter Elbow discusses in his article "Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience", that while audience awareness is important, an over awareness of audience can be paralyzing and can cause writer's block.

Other blocks, especially the more serious kind, may be produced by adverse circumstances in a writer's life or career: physical illness, depression, the end of a relationship, financial pressures, a sense of failure. The pressure to produce work may in itself contribute to a writer's block, especially if they are compelled to work in ways that are against their natural inclination, i.e. too fast or in some unsuitable style or genre. In some cases, writer's block may also come from feeling intimidated by a previous big success, the creator putting on themselves a paralyzing pressure to find something to equate that same success again. The writer Elizabeth Gilbert, reflecting on her post-bestseller prospects, proposes that such a pressure might be released by interpreting creative writers as "having" genius rather than "being" a genius. In George Gissing's New Grub Street, one of the first novels to take writer's block as a main theme, the novelist Edwin Reardon becomes completely unable to write and is shown as suffering from all those problems.

It has been suggested that Writer's Block is more than just a mentality. Under stress, a human brain will "shift control from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system". The limbic system is associated with the instinctual processes, such as "fight or flight" response. Because the person is primarily thinking in instinctual (learned) behaviors, creative processes are hindered. The person is often unaware of the change, which may lead them to believe they are creatively "blocked". In her 2004 book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain (ISBN 9780618230655), the writer and neurologist Alice W. Flaherty has argued that literary creativity is a function of specific areas of the brain, and that block may be the result of brain activity being disrupted in those areas.

For a composition perspective, Lawrence Oliver says, in his article, "Helping Students Overcome Writer's Block", "Students receive little or no advice on how to generate ideas or explore their thoughts, and they usually must proceed through the writing process without guidance or corrective feedback from the teacher, who withholds comments and criticism until grading the final product." He says, students "learn to write by writing", and often they are paralyzed by rules and/or insecure.

Phyllis Koestenbaum wrote in her article, "The Secret Climate the Year I Stopped Writing" about her trepidation toward writing, claiming it was tied directly to her instructor's response. She says, "I needed to write to feel, but without feeling I couldn't write." To contrast Koestenbaum experience, Nancy Sommers express her belief that papers don't end when students write that and neither should instructors' comments. She urges a "partnership" between writers and instructors so that responses become a conversation.

James Adams notes in his book, Conceptual Blockbusting, various reasons blocks occur including fear of taking a risk, "chaos" in the pre-writing stage, judging versus generating ideas, unable to incubate ideas, or lack of motivation. Additionally, The Purdue Online Writing Lab explains common causes ranging an author being assigned a boring topic to an author who is so stressed out he/she cannot put words on the page, and suggests "possible cures" or invention strategy for each.

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