Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Block By Any Other Name

Posted by: PG Forte

Rant alert. This post is a response of sorts on a blog post I read recently, written by an author whose work I admire, in which she discussed a blog post she’d recently read that had been written by an author whose work she admires.  

The subject of this entire nesting doll collection of posts is Writers’ Block. And if you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, gawd, no. Not another one of those!” Then, you have my condolences because, yes, I’m afraid it is.

See, I’ve kind of lost patience with the idea that writer’s block isn’t a real thing, or that naming it somehow gives it more power than it would have otherwise. “Calling it a block makes it seem like something outside yourself over which you have no control,” we’re told. Which seems to me is likely exactly the situation in most cases.  

There are a whole lot of formerly prolific, professional, talented, more-than-moderately successful authors who are struggling right now—hell, I’m struggling right now—and it’s insulting to suggest that we haven’t all done our best to analyze the problem, that we haven’t all sought advice, or tried to correct whatever personal failings are contributing to the problem.

This is not a case of collective amnesia. We haven’t all suddenly forgotten how to write.  We didn’t just lose the skills we’ve honed over the course of writing multiple books. We aren’t any more paralyzed by doubt or a lack of confidence than we’ve always been. I don’t think the books themselves can be the issue either. Because, seriously, how likely is it that we’ve all found ourselves suddenly dealing with unworkable storylines, recalcitrant protagonists, and deeply flawed plots? Not very.  

And, even if that were the case, it’s not like we haven’t all written through these kinds of things before.

When so many of us are simultaneously complaining that our creative wells are running dry, I suspect that the problem lies (at least in part) with our common watershed—with the socio-political climate we find ourselves in, perhaps, or with the massive changes that have taken place within the industry; with new markets opening up and established publishers closing down; with the many, many unrelated-to-writing tasks that we are finding ourselves involved in as we attempt to re-home, or re-write, or re-release a good portion of our backlists; with all the rules that have changed.

There’s been a massive sea-change in the publishing industry lately (and with the world at large, I think) and I think a lot of us are having trouble finding our sea legs.

If I may be allowed to continue the water metaphor, then I think that, yes, Writers’ Block is a good term for the problem.  Our creative streams have gotten damned up somewhere along the way; and I’m not sure it matters where, or how, or by what. But, what I do know is that, if the problem is not something we can eliminate by altering our behavior, then adding guilt to the mix, is only going to make things worse.

  “There’s no such thing as plumber’s block,” we’re also told. And, no, I don’t suppose there is. But, on the other hand, I don’t see how that’s even an argument worth making. Creating a fictional world out of nothing is not AT ALL THE SAME as connecting a few pieces of pipe that already exist. Which is not to suggest that plumbing is not a useful, valuable—dare I say invaluable—skill. There’s no such thing as surgeon’s block, either. And yet no one’s ever suggested that a plumber shouldn’t unclog the toilet of someone he or she knows because they need to stay objective, that they need to maintain their emotional distance in order to be effective in their work.

I don’t really know what the answer is, but it seems that most of us who write do so because we have to, because there’s a need within us that must be expressed. So I have to believe that, sooner or later, that need will find a way. That our creative streams will overflow their banks and carve a new route around the block—or over it, or through it—and we’ll all be awash with juicy new stories once again.

Or, on the other hand, I may have forgotten how to write after all, because I think I’ve just taken that water metaphor way too far.

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