There are two kinds of people in the world. Orange people and green people. Orange people are round, have a tough skin that, once you cut through, reveal a tasty delight inside. Then their orangeness turns brown. Green people are long and thin, stretching up to the sky. They sway in the breeze until the wind wins and knocks them over. Then they turn brown.
Show of hands...how many thought I was at least trying to say something profound with that stupid metaphor? That few? Wow, I gotta get more people reading this blog.
However, while it has no relevance to what I'm about to say, I enjoyed it, so there.
The real topic of this article is ***WRITER'S BLOCK***
In my infinite capacity for imbibing large quantities of Jameson's Irish Whiskey (and when are those assholes going to recognize how much I plug them and send me a free case, that's what I want to know.) Where was I?
Oh yes, writer's block.
Thesis: Writer's block is nothing more than the conscious mind over engaged in the writing process.
I'm not going to go into all the scientific findings about the dominance of our unconscious mind and how little control our conscious minds have over our day-to-day lives. If you want to know, ask in a comment, and I'll flood you with more data than you'd ever want.
The point is that human beings are not rational, emotional, nor sophisticated beings with a profound grasp of the world around us. In evolutionary time, we are about ten minutes beyond the caves--and we've fooled ourselves thanks to our weird ability to develop sophisticated technology into thinking we're special.
So, there are three kinds of people in the world (here we go again.) People who think writing is about as interesting as navel lint, people who write because some external force demands it--like a job, and people for whom there is no choice. You can't rationally analyze it--writers in the third sense write because we have no option. Not writing would be like not breathing. You can do it for a while, but, in the end, you either breathe or die.
The folk singer Arlo Guthrie once said that Bob Dylan, when asked where he got his songs from, responded that it was like dipping his hand into a river and just pulling the song out. Guthrie responded that the rest of them were just lucky to upstream from Dylan.
Writing is the same thing. Timothy Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, in Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, writes that our five senses at any moment take in over 11 million pieces of information. Our conscious minds can handle about 40 pieces of information per second. The rest is processed by the unconscious which sets goals, forms opinions and values, makes decisions, and even determines behavior--usually outside of our conscious awareness.
So where does writing come from? Writer's often talk about being on a roll, watching the words flow onto paper (or computer screen) as if they were observers. It's an incredible high. The joy of discovery at moments such as that is as great for writers is at is for their readers. That's the unconscious at work. Even those writers who develop detailed outlines and character analyses have to let their unconscious do the hard lifting when it's time to start writing--the conscious mind just doesn't have the capacity.
What's fascinating is that, as one watches the words appear, the conscious mind is engaged and can impose editorial control when the unconscious starts getting off base. The balance between the two is a delicate one. If the conscious mind is too disengaged, you wind up with Ulysses, which I'm convinced was written to befuddle and confuse college students.
However, and, we finally reach the point, if the conscious mind is too engaged, you experience writer's block. You're literally blocking the unconscious from the creative exercise. There are lots of reasons the conscious may get over-engaged--you're letting the outside world intrude and daily problems are front and center; anxiety about whether what you're writing is good enough; frustration over any aspect of the writing process, etc.
You have to regain that balance, but my guess that the solution is individual. I often get up and wander around. Or I'll start working on another project. Sometimes, I can let something go and somehow things get back into balance. (There aren't easy words to describe that internal process.)
But there's another kind of writer's block caused by over-engagement of the conscious mind. That occurs not when you're writing, but when you're thinking about writing. Some set such high expectations that when they sit down to write, they're paralyzed. Others are so confused about what they want to say that they begin to force the process resulting in stilted, uninspiring words.
Again, the solution to this kind of block is individual, but I would suggest that one method is to try to shut your conscious mind off and just start writing. Don't worry about where it's going or what it is. Just write and try to recapture the feeling of reaching into the river and pulling out the words. I must have half a dozen ten to thirty page somethings--they may turn into novels or short stories, or they may just linger on my computer forever.
Writer's block is painful and even frightening, but if you understand what's causing it, you may have a better chance of overcoming it. It isn't mysterious or magical, it's not a sign that you're not a writer, it's not that your rhetoric machine has run out of words. It's simply that you're not letting your unconscious drive the process.
(I'm talking big for an unpublished novelist, but I've made very good living as a business writer and am known for my ability to put things in unusual, vivid, surprising ways, so I've got some reason to believe my thesis may be correct.)