I have heard this many times and to an extent I agree. Now, before you click away just stay with me a little while and let me explain.
Elsewhere on this site I have written about how when I was teaching I used creative writing exercises to get people writing in the class. I would set a timer, write three exercises on the board and tell the class to write for ten minutes on the first exercise. I would encourage them to write whatever they wanted as fast as they could.
Many of these people would have told me earlier that they had no ideas about what to write about, or that they couldn’t get time, or were simply blocked.
Yet, as soon as I set that timer to go, without exception all the heads would go down and pens would start racing across pages. There was no pause for thought, sighs, coughs or yawns – the pressure of both the ten minute window for writing and the timer waiting to go off would ensure immediate and total concentration.
I would repeat the procedure with the other two exercises and after thirty minutes we would discuss what they had written.
Without fail it would soon become obvious to me and to them that none of these people had a problem writing at all. During the exercises, most of them had found an idea they liked writing about and were going to continue with that idea at home.
One or two had enjoyed the process but hadn’t found ‘their story,’ still they had realised they weren’t blocked at all – they just thought they were.
WHAT IS LAZINESS?
So what was happening? Were they lazy and just in need of someone to put pressure on them? Maybe some were a little, but mainly they weren’t – what seemed like laziness was a problem of motivation, focus, confidence and time management. They did want to write – purely lazy people wouldn’t want to do something that takes such a lot of hard work surely? Lazy people would really rather sit and do nothing productive at all.
BECOMING YOUR OWN BOSS
They just hadn’t found their routine, or their compelling story. Building a writing routine can be difficult for people who are used to working for others. To be a writer is to employ yourself – to be your own boss. Most of us aren’t used to it.
The creative writing exercises were an easy ‘in’ to finding a story and made them realise that they could write. The pressure of the time frame meant they had no space to worry about what they were going to write, no time for the mental editor to kick in, and it forced them to just get on with it.
Once they discovered they could write, their confidence in their ability to write was boosted and this made a huge difference.
To achieve the same effect at home they needed to become disciplined about making time for writing and ensuring that time was uninterrupted by friends and family – this can be a problem for many writers and can require a different kind of confidence to do it. If this is a problem for you there are some useful tips to help you right here.
GET ON WITH IT
So, are exercises the answer to every writer’s block? Do blocked writers just need to put their heads down, be quiet and get on with it?
Well, yes they must. However, there are exceptions and one of these is the kind of block caused by depression. Writers seem to be more prone to bouts of depression than others for many reasons but I won’t digress into that subject today.
I have endured several periods of depression throughout my life and during these periods I was unable to write. Was I blocked? Could some exercises have cured me?
I think not because while ill with depression I was simply not capable of finding exercises, going to writing classes, or groups. Due to partial deafness I always find it challenging to hear in groups of people. If there is a lot of background noise and multiple conversation then I can barely hear at all. I usually try to find ways around this but it’s not easy and when struggling with depression I felt completely unable to cope with groups of people at all. I also found the pressure of trying to write, aware that I was wasting my talents, added a layer of guilt to an illness which already had me by the throat.
GUILT IS CRAP
Guilt really is crap – I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Guilt adds a layer of pain to an already painful problem. Would I have felt guilty if kidney or heart problems had made me ill and unable to write? I think not, so I am not going to beat myself up over losing periods of writing time due to depression… not any more.
Was I blocked? Absolutely – however, the kind of block I struggled with was not particular to writers alone – it can affect anyone, but the difference is that writing is not something we can do on automatic pilot – unlike say attaching a widget to a gadget. Writing uses the part of the mind that is most unwell and so writing when depressed is as difficult as bricklaying with a broken arm.
BE GONE BLACK DOG
I am very well now thankfully, and I hope the black dog is well and truly behind me but I have learned a lot from those periods and no longer do I feel guilty about the time wasted – despite the opinions of those who think depressed people should simply use will power to ’think their way out of it.’ But then that’s a whole other subject 🙂
What I discovered after I became well again was that my productivity soared. I had lots of ideas – it was as though all those unexpressed ideas and unwritten stories had been fermenting in some dark corner of my depressed mind waiting for the darkness to lift.
If you are suffering from either writer’s block I hope what I have written here has helped and if not and you have realised that depression is your problem then I would urge you to see your doctor and do whatever you can to get help. I wrote about my personal experience with depression here. Remember depression is an illness and it can be fatal so don’t take it lightly – get help.
Take it easy