When the stationery cursor blinks indefinitely in the menacing glare of the blank page, deadlines loom more frightening to the writer than dawn to the insomniac. To those whom have suffered from it, writer’s block can be as debilitating as any physical condition that inhibits activity and productivity. It is, however, not only wordsmiths and storytellers who are struck by the condition.Musicians, sportsmen and other professionals suffer tooWhen Fernando Torres transferred from Liverpool FC to Chelsea FC for a staggering £50 million, he became the sixth most expensive footballer in history and the most expensive in British football history. Unfortunately, the once world-class striker played 903 minutes of football for Chelsea before scoring a single goal. His goal drought was discussed in minute detail by the world’s press, which significantly increased the pressure on him to justify his expensive transfer fee.
Similarly, the intense pressure that Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff felt after the negative response his First Symphony received left the composer deeply depressed and unable to compose any music. The block lasted for three years until the composer finally sought medical help in 1900. He spent three months in psychotherapy, after which he produced what is arguably his most popular work of all: the Second Piano Concerto in C Minor.
The causes of writer’s block are commonly associated with any form of severe stress that the writer experiences. This can stem from external sources such as death in the family, financial or marital issues. Sometimes the source of stress can be internal, where the writer puts pressure on him/herself to surpass previous successes or avoid previous failures.
According to Wikipedia, when the kind of pressure that induces writer’s block is present, the brain’s functioning shifts from the cerebral cortex to the more primitive limbic system. The limbic system is associated with the more basic processes, such as fight or flight, which primitive man needed to survive in the wild. The fear induced by the stress causes the brain the bypass the creative thinking part of the brain, which explains the writer’s sensation of feeling stuck.
What can be done to help?
There are literally thousands of publications that are aimed at repairing or building self esteem. One book that has done particularly well is Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis. In it he describes the mental strategies that tennis players use to overcome their sense of fear and self-doubt in order to perform under enormous pressure. His ideas became so popular that professionals in other disciplines have adopted them and prompted a series of books including, The Inner Game of Music (for performing musicians who suffer from debilitating performance anxiety) and The Inner Game of Work.
Another popular book that can be extremely helpful in unlocking creative potential is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book sets tasks and goals over a 12-week period which aims to build self-confidence and promote creative activity.
For those who are constantly on the go, there is an app called Quiller (developed by Amy Randolph),which helps stimulate journal writing. The app comes with five writing categories and 200 prompts that aim to help the user access difficult emotions and express them through writing.
A helpful tip from one of the best
In an article translated for the New York Times, Gabriel Garcia Marquez quotes one of his favourite pieces of advice from Ernst Hemingway: “Each day’s work should only be interrupted when one knows where to begin again the next day.” Marquez goes on to say that it is the best way to avoid what he calls the most terrible spectre of writers: the morning agony of facing the blank page.
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Louisa Theart writes for House of Publishers, a new and comprehensive resource for writers who need to find publishing houses and literary agents to help them on their way.