Writer’s block is a topic heavily discussed among writers of all sorts. It’s all-consuming and plunges you into a pit of frustration and, even, depression. You simply can’t move past the blank page that is in front of you, and the idea of moving forward leads to a feeling similar to stage fright. You choke. You feel embarrassed. You feel like you can’t do it anymore.
We all have experienced writer’s block in some shape or form, on some level. And with that experience we have found ways to overcome it. Free writing. Outlining. Drawing characters. Going out for a walk. Cooking a nice meal. Having a phone conversation with your mother. All of these are valid ways to cope. But what if your usual go-tos don’t work?
Gen Con – Indianapolis, IN 2016: Valuable Wisdom in Writer’s Block from Maurice Broaddus
The conference room, which can hold up to 150 people, has a little more than thirty people. Most of the group sit in the first three rows. A small number of people are spread out in the outer seats, myself included. Some of us are cosplaying while there are others dressed comfortably for the event. Age varies in the group. You see people in their sixties, their thirties, their twenties… Even a teenager is among us.
I have a notebook out. I’ve been to five other seminars from the Writer’s Symposium, and I have yet to write anything down in it. I wonder if I’m missing something. Everyone else seems to have found something to write about. This series of seminars, as well as workshops, are for individuals that want to better understand the writing community and the craft of writing. I have made it a point to go to the seminars over the writing workshops. (The workshops are packed, and I haven’t been given any prescription anxiety pills.) What I have struggled with is the writer’s life part of my writing. I struggle with the ups and downs of productivity; I don’t have the confidence to sell or promote my work; I struggle with the notorious depression that often ails writers. This particular seminar is called “Writer’s Block,” a rather straight-to-the-point description of the event, and I find myself wanting to leave since I understand the concept of writer’s block and have overcome it multiple times.
Eric, who has agreed to stay with me, says, “It won’t hurt to sit through it.”
I figure he’s right.
There are four people sitting at the front of the room. One panelist that immediately catches my eye is Maurice Broaddus, the only person of color aside from myself in the room. I’m intrigued, but I don’t say a word. I soon learn that he is an accomplished fantasy writer.
The panelists take turns talking about writer’s block and how they cope with it. They’re responses to the moderator range from activities and exercises that they do to stimulate some writing. That is, until Broaddus speaks up.
“I found that I’ve had writer’s block when I’ve had a lot going on in my life.”
A lot going on, you say? I lean in and rest my chin on my fists. It’s different from the usual discourse of writer’s block.
“You have to face what’s preventing you from writing before you can get over writer’s block.”
Broaddus then begins telling his story. His sister was diagnosed with cancer several years ago; it was terminal. He found himself caught up in the stress and anxiety of coping with her health’s deterioration up until she died. His writing had suffered then. However, he couldn’t hop back on the bicycle and write again. The following several months, Broaddus experienced a great depression that kept him from even thinking about writing. Gradually, as time passed and came to terms with her death, Broaddus started writing his fantasy stories again.
He says, “It’s okay if life keeps you from writing, but you have to find a way to cope with life or you’re never going to write again.”
He goes on to admit that not everyone will have that same traumatic experience, but the core idea still stands. If you find you can’t write, then there is a barrier you must overcome before you can move on. It’s a great time for reflection and self-evaluation.
My Own Barriers As A Writer
It isn’t a secret. My blog makes it quite clear that I have been struggling with a barrier for several years. But it wasn’t until about Winter 2015 that I recognized that barrier, and it wasn’t until I heard what Broaddus had to say that I really considered my mental illness as a barrier to my own writing.
However, it makes sense. I had the severe lows that made me unable to string along any type of story or even lift a pencil to a piece of paper. Writing was physically impossible for me. My highs made me, well, highly productive…with everything, which also happened to include writing, but this meant that my energy was split up among numerous unfinished projects (that remain still unfinished to this day).
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and How It’s Related to Writer’s Block
These instances of writers having writer’s blocks based on barriers are survival responses. It’s pretty basic psychology, but Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good breakdown of what’s going on. You have five levels in this pyramid. Starting from the bottom, you have to possess certain needs before you are concerned with possessing other needs. In the case of a writer, self-actualization–where the individual pursues their desire to accomplish their goals and so on–could be writing and finishing a project. Without the other needs fulfilled though, the writer would be preoccupied with getting those needs fulfilled.
What I love about what Broaddus had to say was that we, as writers, have to take responsibility of their barriers. We can’t simply let ourselves be swept along the currents of writer’s block. No. We have to survive by facing the obstacle, by recognizing that maybe we just need time to heal.
I still struggle with writer’s block related to my health and environment. However, I am better prepared to overcome it because of Broaddus’ wisdom. I know that if there is something at work that has caused me some stress I might run into issues writing. Same goes for my bipolar. Have I taken my medication? What’s the weather like? Do I need to visit my doctor?
Depending on the answer, I have to find a plan of action. It’s like any other obstacle in life. I will always remember what he had to say. It is empowering, and I just feel more in control of life as a writer. I suppose you can say that it’s advice that is so obvious that you wouldn’t even think about it.