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Dubai Diaries: Writer's Block - fiction or fact?

anamika@khaleejtimes.com Filed on July 15, 2021
Photo/Alamy.ae

It’s been many, many years since I used writer’s block as an excuse.

Writer’s block. The first time I heard the phrase, I was thrilled. I was 15 then, and my misplaced understanding of the phrase seemed to explain my aversion for academic textbooks. Writer’s block then seemed to answer all existential questions. Every time mum asked me to study, I’d say, “I have a writer’s block.”

“What does it have to do with getting math right?” Clearly, all attempts to run away from studies weren’t meant to be bracketed under ‘writer’s block’, but some things were. For example, years later when I joined a newspaper as a trainee, the pressure of the daily rigmarole was becoming unbearable.

On one occasion, when the editor asked me to cover student elections at a local campus, I was quick to offer the same excuse to him. “But what does writer’s block have to do with filing a copy?”

It’s been many, many years since I used writer’s block as an excuse. That may have something to do with the fact that I am now fully settled in a profession where writing is akin to breathing. There is too much happening around the world for us not to have a language to express it. But I still wonder if writer’s block is truth or hype?

Good writing comes from a place of honesty, but its real ammunition is candour. We are all opinionated, but only a few have the candour to put their words out in the public domain without fear of judgment.

A creative writing instructor once told me that you can get to know a person by reading what they have to write. It does not simply reflect their worldview, but also indicates how they think. It is about simplifying the complicated and complicating the simplistic. The world is not black and white — good writing explores its greys.

Writer’s block, then, is a time when void surfaces out of the blue. And it’s tough to find a language for nothingness. You can still very much see the grey, but just cannot bring yourself to articulate it the way you normally would. It’s not as though we feel any less strongly about issues that are close to heart, but the wear-and-tear of the mind paralyses the pen.

When noted English writer Graham Greene was in his 50s, he is believed to have suffered from writer’s block. He struggled to develop the plots of the stories he’d begun writing, and, at times, couldn’t even get down to starting them. What came to his rescue then was a simple exercise he’d learnt in his childhood — dream journal — where he would document his dreams vividly. Greene’s rationale was simple — when our conscious realities become overbearing, it’s the subconscious that opens up a world of possibilities.

Many of us fear writer’s block, without realising that it is a natural process. Not all of us are hardwired to write any time, every time; sometimes, our personal circumstances get the better of us; on other occasions, it is simply feeling that you do not possess the means to articulate your thoughts.

Whenever you do feel that, it is useful to look within — just like Greene did — for answers. Sometimes, they might be staring right at you.

Anamika Chatterjee