The Recovering Writer
You have probably noticed, if you are one of the blessed souls who bother to read this dear, little blog regularly, that I haven’t written or posted anything in this space for over a month now. Yet, some of you have been gracious enough to comment, subscribe and read my earlier articles, and this has motivated me to start tapping on the keyboard again. In fact, I recently bought a new laptop so that I could write without facing the inconvenience of working on the PC and straining my neck at odd hours of the night. And the grave irony of this matter is that I haven’t produced much, ever since the laptop established itself on my table.
I asked myself, is it this what writers, publishers, reviewers, critics, readers and all those associated with the world of writing, call WRITER’S BLOCK, in broad capitals?
‘Writer’s block’ has always seemed to me a taboo term— you might as well shout out Lord Voldemort’s name in Hogwarts. The protagonists of many novels and stories have been writers with the temporary inability to write. In George Orwell’s novel Keep The Aspidistra Flying, the protagonist tries to write an epic poem describing a day in London, but fails. This phase has plagued the greatest of writers, like Virginia Woolf and Coleridge. But at the same time, many have scorned at this term, condemning it as pretentious writers’ mumbo-jumbo. Nevertheless, there are moments in every artist’s life when words stop to flow, when the paintbrush refuses to move on the canvas, when all the tunes go haywire. Those moments are living hell for an artist. The premonition that she might lose the one thing she’s good at lurks in every corner—the fear is unsettling. When she reads a book of an author she admires, she thinks, “Will I ever be able to write like that?”At that time, the answer that comes to the mind is seldom an affirmative. The apprehensions of an aspiring writer, or even an established writer, are numerous, and once she has chosen the path she wants to tread, little can be done to change her mind. Margaret Atwood, in her book Negotiating With the Dead, writes about her becoming a writer,
“…How is it that I became a writer? It wasn’t a likely thing for me to have done, nor was it something I chose, as you chose to be a lawyer or dentist. It simply happened, suddenly, in 1956, while I was crossing the football field on the way home from school. I wrote a poem in my head and then I wrote it down, and after that writing was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t know that this poem of mine wasn’t at all good, and if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have cared. It wasn’t the result but the experience that hooked me: it was the electricity. My transition from not being a writer to being one was instantaneous, like the change from docile bank clerk to fanged monster in ‘B’ movies. Anyone looking might have thought I’d been exposed to some chemical or cosmic ray of the kind that causes rats to become gigantic and men to become invisible.”
The humour and honesty with which she writes about her experience are rare (again, will I ever be able to write like that?); however, the process she describes is universal to most devoted writers. Once you are in love with writing, it is not in your control to stop it when the inner compulsion arises. At times you just want to lock yourself in the room to avoid any outside disturbance -your mother asking you to run an errand or to do a household chore- and let the state where the subconscious and the conscious meet take over.
But what to do when these processes stop to happen for a while? When you feel the art is dying (even though it might have just gone on a short vacation)? What does a writer, aspiring or otherwise, do to recover from this curse, the feeling of helplessness on seeing the cold, dusty keyboard which strikes as an ugly reminder of her inability to write?
She takes a break. She reads and reads and reads and reads books. And she tries to read them carefully. Over many cups of coffee and tea (any day better than alcohol, which might make you a writer-Devdas of sorts, and that won’t help at all), she thinks about returning to what she loves best. She tries to pinpoint the distractions and disturbances that have been hindering her from writing, and does away with them (I’m not saying it’s easy). She thinks about the ‘Dear Reader’. She buys books she has always wanted to be a part of her library (so much of positivity!), and assures herself that it is going to work. She finally writes an article about it, to establish the fact that it is working, after all.