Every so often, I come across a post asking what to do about writer’s block. Writer’s block is an inability to write; it does not refer to having written your character into a corner. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do, however, understand when someone has a creative hiatus. I’ve experienced them myself. The only cure that works for me is tincture of time.
How much time? That’s anybody’s guess. I once took a 10-year hiatus. There were other demands on my time, energy, and focus, and I had nothing to spare for writing.
When I explain the concept, I use the analogy of a well. There’s a well within your mind or heart or spirit that contains your creativity. When you write or paint or compose or whatever, you draw from that well. Now just like real life, some people have deep wells that refill quickly and others don’t. If you draw from the well faster than it can be replenished, your suffer a scarcity of creative energy.
A well needs time to refill. Therefore, I advise those writers who have emptied their wells of creative energy to set their languishing manuscripts aside and do something else. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Cook a new dish. Listen to music. Read a book. Watch a movie. This is not to say that a single excursion or activity will cure what ails you; it’s a suggestion for alternative activity to focus you conscious mind on other things while your subconscious mind takes a much needed rest.
The source of creativity is not the well.
My son likes to remind me that writers have one of the highest percentages of mental illness of any profession. There’s a good reason for that.
The source of creativity is pain.
Creativity results from the need to express pain. Humans express pain in beautiful ways: music, art, and literature. Other people express pain in other ways through physical exertion or a multitude of tasks or by shutting down.
I came to this conclusion with the realization that when I’m in a contented or generally happy state, I don’t write or paint. I have no urge to expel the emotion filling me, to get it out before it can do any more damage.
I’ll bet that those creative people who were acknowledged as “mad” or “disturbed” or “not quite right in the head” were the types who worked best when the well runneth over. They created their masterpieces in an effort to drain the well and ease the pain.
The key to sustainable creativity is to manage the pain, to keep it in balance with other emotions. Too much pain squelches creativity. Too much pain manifests as mental, emotional, and physical illness. The absence of pain removes the impetus to create.
I also think that this explanation of creativity doesn’t serve the majority of writers who are “plotters.” This explanation better fits the “pantser” category of writer who writes best when inspired.