Monday, 15 December 2014

Must I live with a writer's block?

There's no writer out there who doesn't speak, with anger or with pride, about their writer's block. I understand this blockage to be the intensification that comes when the emptiness of content ("I have nothing to write about; my mind is empty") meets the fullness of demand ("I should, I must; I have this deadline, I have been ordered to write and can't avoid the work").


What happens when I have nothing in mind – nothing to hang on to, while this terrible pressure to write rages within me like a hurricane? This slightly complicated and complicating question forces me to break its meaning into separate, more manageable, bits. What is this pressure? What is an external force, and why is it there, facing the subject, causing pain or anxiety or tension? What is the writing subject in relation to this exterior and in relation to this pressure?

The pressure of the world

Where nothing presents itself to me as writeable, I understand that the world, which is a text, resists its perception. In other words, it resists the intervention of the transformative subject that I am. When this happens, when I have to face the world in terms of an opposition, I am left with the only choice of behaving like an angler on the banks of a rapid river. I tease the waters, casting my line haphazardly, not knowing what might be there, not knowing if the line is strong enough, or if I will be strong enough to hold the text-to-come – my catch of the day.

Source: Wikipedia
This teasing, though, this toying with the laws of hazard, is not a simple form of play. I mean, it is a game alright, but not a facile one. This angling about, full of hopes but with no certitudes, is a game that defines the very essence of writing. As I can see in the relationship between the subject and the imperceptible world, the play with the hazards of the yet-unknown reveals the weakness of my position in relation to the world – in relation to the text of the world.
When I cast my line I am, in spite of being the one with the lure, with the trick, with the intent to murder the creature of the waters, I am, in truth, the weaker part. Weak because I can't see that which is about to become my victim. I am (to take this issue to its utmost conclusion) a murderer who keeps missing the body that he wants to kill.
I can't see my catch-of-the-day, no matter how hard I strain my eyes, no matter how many tricks I employ, how much I rely on sonars, UV glasses, and other similar cheats. To be more precise, the catch remains invisible to me even when I see it right there, inches from my hook and bait.
The deceiving nature of the world is that it is not what I can see, but rather what I can say. As a creator, my perceptions alone are of little importance. It is not the premise (the observation, the awareness I have of the world existing) that matters but the conclusion (the outcome, the output). In my quality as a writer, the difficulty doesn't start until I am obliged to put into words, images (artefacts), that which I believe to be the world. This is why I speak of an external pressure, a deadline of sorts, which is the demand formulated for me (against me), a demand which forces me to write the world down, to put the world into expression.

Luring the subjectless world

The world, insofar as it is mine, is lured into being by means of language. This is why what's outside the sentence, outside the film, outside the statue, outside the painting, is indeed more important – precisely because it is outside the subject, and therefore more likely to stand where the world stands.
The subjectless world is what I, the creative subject, love with passion. As in the case of the inhabitants of Plato's cave, the shadows I see projected onto the wall are not the world; they are just shadows, subjective misrepresentations of a misleading world. And will go away like shadows, with the coming of light.


The catch that lurks under the surface is not the catch of the day – it is only a shadow (a foreshadowing) of what might be my catch. Not yet here, not yet mine, it, too, teases: it teases me, it plays with my angler's nerves, it shows itself and hides itself, exposing its flesh only in order to make my awaiting even more painful, even more treacherous.
In order to see that fish as a catch-of-the-day, I need to see it caught – in my basket, in my grasp.
And so I will perhaps be allowed to say that writing is like angling. The action of testing the waters and fooling the fish so as to have it take the bite and hook, is the writer's searching about to find the right expression (the right catch). There are differences between a fish and an expression, no doubt. But I want to point out their similarity. The fish I have caught, like the expression I seem to have discovered, is an apparent certitude – indeed, a deception. What I have here, in my basket (in my vocabulary, on my page etc.), is far from what my angling about is truly capable of yielding. How do I know that this fish did not take the hook from another, bigger, fatter one? Since it's impossible for me to see what alternatives there were at the moment of the bite, I will never know what I've truly missed.

The subject under pressure

And hence, more pressure exerted on me. This time, the pressure of suspicion. There is no way I can free myself of this doubt, of this question: Have I acquired the best of all possible results? Have I written the Sentence? It is because of this suspicion that I have to do drafts; because of this suspicion that I have to spend sleepless nights reading the words of others, so as to make sure that what I'm doing is not mere repetition; or, even worse, that I am not unaware of my repeating the words of others.
I believe this suspicion is another reason for the blockage I experience when I say I have nothing to write. Nothing, as in ‘nothing original.’ Nothing, as in ‘nothing free of the fear of repetition.’
Technically speaking, there are various ways in which not-writing can be counteracted. Writing à la Surrealists or à la seance, as an automatism, is one of them. An easy drill: take a piece of paper and write anything that comes to mind. Any sequence of words will do, as no logical (i.e. grammatical) structure is expected.

Source: The Independent
But this is a mere technicality. It is a step-by-step set of operations that ease the pouring of words onto the page. (I don't want to talk now about the virtues of automatic writing, which reflect something fundamental about the art and the craft of scribbling: the arbitrariness of the entire process. But the point is worth keeping in mind.)
To a creator, who seeks to create order out of the disordered matter given to them in the beginning, automatic writing is like the training of professional wrestlers: it is not with the push-ups and the hours spent on the treadmill that the wrestler wins the fight; but the push-ups are crucial to winning, insofar as they represent the foundation of everything the wrestler can accomplish. With the push-ups, the wrestler is more likely to think of his fight as one free of the wrestler's block.
But the block is not completely avoidable. Never. In fact, the training represented by disordered scribbling does not eliminate the suspicion I spoke about a little earlier. On the contrary, it intensifies it, precisely because I hereby become aware that the haphazardness of it is not unique; that I cannot be the only one stumbling upon this very combination, this set of words, this seemingly original idea. Other writers (I'd call them my adversaries) can easily do the same. And so, what are the odds of me being so completely original? How can I say with certitude that the version I'm contemplating is the version that will satisfy my writing self forever?
So to answer the question in the title, I must say yes, I have to accept writer's block, since I cannot be without it. It is one of the most fundamental elements of the creative process. There is no way I can live without it, since there is no way I can acquire perfection. So there.