I never used to believe in writers block. Writers write, and if they can't think of anything to write about, they write a list, write their goals, write gibberish—until the words flow again. The writing doesn't have to be good in the beginning; it need only be words on the page.
I stand by that. There is always a way to write. But feeling blocked isn't about the ability to write just anything. It is the polar opposite of what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow," when writing becomes effortless. It is a state of mind that can prevent the most accomplished writer from starting or finishing a work he or she should be capable of writing, and the condition can be severe enough to end a career.
Ill health—physical or psychological—will cause a writer's words to dry up. Pain is seldom conducive to anything positive, and contrary to popular myths about the motivational power of misery and want, writers are like most people—they will be more creative when they are not unhappy, worried, or in dire need. It is absurd to suggest that writers function best when bills are pressing or the cupboards are empty. And, as with the general population, pain and depression normally inhibit productivity, they do not promote it.
Scientist Alice Flaherty, author of the fascinating book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writers' Block, and the Creative Brain writes that some psychiatrists believe that depression is especially "intertwined with and harmful to language because of the way depression drains away meaning." She also argues that the manic urge to write known as hypergraphia occurs a specific area of the brain, and that trauma or disease in that area may also cause creative blocks.
Debilitating lack of confidence, or fear of failure, separate from depression, is another cause of creative block. Sylvia Plath once wrote, "the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." Many other writers have echoed this sentiment. Fear will cause writers to sabotage themselves, to not write a book or an article even when an editor is waiting for it. Poor sales, harsh critics, or reader indifference will convince even the most courageous writer that no one cares about his work. Others will persuade themselves that nothing they write will ever be as interesting or as accomplished as what has already been written. We convince ourselves that we have nothing of any importance to say, that everything we write is mundane and trivial.
Serious cases of writers block require treatment from a doctor or psychotherapist, and while many of those who suffer from depression report that antidepressant medications lessen their desire to write, others persevere and find a medication that corrects depression without diminishing their ability to write.
If medical intervention doesn't feel necessary, the following practices can be helpful:
So many writers have claimed to suffer from writers block that no list will ever be comprehensive, but some notable names are as follows, most of whom went on to write a significant body of work:
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