Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Writer's Block, or Alternately, When Reading Is Hard

Writer's block. Does it exist? Or is it just a lazy writer's excuse for laziness? At first I thought so. Then I spent a week staring at a word document, typing in some words, deleting them, typing in some words, cursing the screen, and giving up to watch early Simpsons episodes.

Okay, maybe it's been more than a week. GET OFF MY BACK, DUDE.

Rather than bemoan my state to anyone who will listen, including my mom's dog--

Actually, wait, she won't listen. She just gives me this look:

Which means "what the hell are you talking about? And why aren't you feeding me or lavishing me with gifts?" (The dog has a major attitude problem.)

--ANYWAY. Rather than bemoan my state to anyone who will or will not listen, I have decided to design my own treatment plan. Just call me Dr. Veronica Roth, DDS. (No, I don't know what DDS means. I suspect it is related to dentistry.) Also call me Veronica Roth, WBS sufferer. (WBS = Writer's Block Syndrome.)

Basically, I've been thinking about my situation and I've noticed some things that might be perpetuating my WBS. Those things are:

A. Not reading.
B. Subconsciously adhering to unnecessary and imaginary rules about how to go about things. (IE: writing in order.)
C. Too much distance from original work.

I'm going to talk about the first problem a bit, because it's the most troubling to me. I'll probably explain the others later.

It may surprise you to know that I have real trouble convincing myself to read. (Surprise you, since writers are all about reading.) It's not because of genre snobbery (HEAVENS no) or because I'm so critical of books that I can't enjoy them anymore (certainly not), it's because I sort of dread the power they have over me. The Fault In Our Stars, for example, has been sitting on my desk for DAYS but I have not cracked it open. Is it because I'm not interested? No. Is it because I think it won't be worth the time? No. It's because I'm pretty sure it will crack me open in some way, and force me out of myself, and it's sort of hard for me to volunteer for that. 

One of the woeful aspects of GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder: I haz it. I also haz bad and outdated Internet slang) is how it traps you inside yourself. Believe me, I don't want to be stuck in here. It's a very tense environment. There are a lot of rules and YOU BETTER NOT TRACK DIRT ON THIS CARPET, YOUNG LADY.

Yet somehow I've convinced myself that worrying is a form of control, and refusing to worry means giving up that control, so reading, which involves not worrying because I am in someone else's head, feels a lot like being out of control. I am aware that this is irrational. Believe it or not, my being aware of the irrational-ness doesn't help it to go away, though I reallyreallyreally wish it did.

And beyond that, I don't want to be cracked open because I'm worried about what will spill out. Another aspect of Anxiety Woes is that they make your mind into a corset for your emotions. When I loosen the threads of that corset, everything starts to spill out-- joy and excitement and love, on the plus side, and anger and sadness and frustration, on the minus. And a part of my mind--a very persuasive part--would rather have neither than both, because it's just easier that way.

Some people read to escape, but that doesn't work for me anymore, and that's why.

One thing I want to talk about is what this says about books. And that is that they're powerful, otherwise I wouldn't be avoiding them. And that even books that we so often dismiss as brain candy have this power-- I am even avoiding those.

That is why books are important-- because they force us out of ourselves and engage our sympathies and make us reflect on ourselves and the world in different ways, whether you're reading about a WW2 survivor or an adolescent vampire-unicorn.

 And maybe this is part of the writer's block: that I have taught myself to be afraid of reading, and a side effect might be that I have also taught myself to be afraid of writing, because it involves the same things: letting myself go, and relinquishing control, and opening myself up.

The Dauntless Manifesto (which aligns quite nicely with the Exposure Therapy Manifesto) says the only way to deal with fear is to run at it as fast as you can, so that's my plan. Me and my giant stack of unread books are going to tackle writer's block this week, and I'm going to tell you how it goes in the hope that it will either amuse or assist you in some way.

Even if your reaction is like this:


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