I recently read an article about writer’s block, and nodded as I read through the various suggestions to overcome it. The problem is, I don’t think I’ve ever had real writer’s block as it was described in that and several other articles. I’ve never felt the blank wall closing in on me, the paucity of the well of ideas, the cold empty feeling of not knowing what to do next, the inability to move forward in any way. I do, however, have moments when I don’t like the ideas I’ve come up with, I know they’re not going to work, and I can’t think of something better. I may not call it writer’s block, but I have something in my brain that’s not working.
Carl Jung believed in the all-powerful unconscious to create art in its many forms.
“The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life.” (Collected Works 15, paragraph 115) https://jungiancenter.org/speaking-in-primordial-images-part-1-jung-on-creativity-and-the-creative-process/#_ftn2
I don’t think of myself as a Jungian, but I do think that the unconscious plays a role. When the ideas that seem obvious to me also feel unsatisfactory, I set the work aside and do something else, such as write a blog post, outline a different story, read. I let the obvious and unworkable material evaporate and hope something better will come along. And eventually it does.
John Cleese, a man who seems to exude creativity in everything he does once said that he never takes the first idea. If you clap onto the first idea that comes to you, you miss something better. You have to be willing to wait until the dross fades and the pure rises to the surface.
Sometimes I try out the less perfect ideas and use them as a bridge to the next scene or chapter, which I’ve already sensed is a good piece. After a while, the problem with the “bridge” scene becomes obvious and I can rework or remove it.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from another writer was to take my time, don’t rush it, let the story grow organically. If that means setting it aside for a few hours or a few days, do it. The mode of expression is different but the idea lines up with letting the unconscious do its work.
It doesn’t take much to spark a story idea, but it does take more thinking to get the feel of the entire story, who the characters are and how they will interact, the setting and how it affects the characters and the plot, and the tone or mood of the whole thing.
In my experience the writer’s block occurs when I push forward too hard, before I’ve let the story develop. When ideas start popping (yes, like the first signs of popcorn popping), then I settle down to write it out, knowing that I’ll have to stop at a later point and wait for the rest of it to show up. A moment of writer’s block is telling me something, and I’ve learned to listen.
6 thoughts on “Writer’s Block”
I’m not strictlyJungian either, but I definitely agree with you about the role of the un/subconscious. Most recently when I was having trouble writing – I won’t say blocked – I gave myself permission to wander, basically to start what might have been a total dead-end subplot. Now, of course, I’m loving it!
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Clea, I had to learn to give myself the freedom to go wherever my brain wanted to go. Sometimes I have no idea what’s coming after the first sentence of a short story, but something always turns up. It’s a wonder.
Susan, I, too, have never experienced writers block. I always have too many ideas to actually write. However, like you, I do have moments where I’ve written myself in to a corner, *like currently in my WIP* and I have to reread what I have written so far, or reevaluate where I might have gone wrong with clues, or if I am forcing something that I want but that can’t happen. I do however, when I change my mind on a murderer halfway to two-thirds through a story, when I read back through to put in clues, I find they are already there. My subconscious has already figured out the true killer while I’ve been fumbling along. Good post!
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Paty, it is remarkable and exciting to discover that the unconscious has been at work all along. One of the many pleasures and rewards of writing.
Thanks, Heather. Yes, those odd bits that show up “for no reason” are a sign of something happening in our brain. In addition to learning to listen, I’ve learned to trust what my unconscious throws out “for no reason.”
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This is excellent, Susan. I never thought about it in quite that way, but now that I have, that’s exactly the process for me, as well. I often am surprised when I add something to a scene ‘for no reason’ and then several chapters, which means days or weeks later, it becomes a clue or solution to the mystery itself. I think our subconscious mind is a very strong part of being a writer. Thanks for a wonderful article.
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