My son is pursuing his Masters in Engineering in Boston’s Northeastern University. Last night, I was casually interacting with him. Unlike many fathers, I speak only worldly things even with my son.
I was discussing about a range of subjects when suddenly the focus shifted to the experiences of startups in India and the United States. My son was narrating how big companies were acquiring startups in the US.
Finding the discussion quite interesting, I asked him to put his impressions on paper as it could double up as a useful article. My son replied that he suffered from writer’s block. Yes, he has not yet written. Many people, including celebrated authors, are vulnerable to it at one point or the other.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines writer’s block as a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece of writing. It’s the problem of not being able to think of something to write about or not being able to finish writing a story, poem, etc.
Writer's block is a condition where-in an author loses the ability to produce a new work or experiences a creative slowdown.
I joined journalism course in 1983. Like any other budding journalist, I was anxious to see my byline in any newspaper. I innocently asked one of my professors on how to go about it.
Unfortunately, that professor who never worked in a newspaper said, “Go to the editor and tell him that you want to write.”
Had I followed this advice, perhaps, I would have only ended up at the entrance of a newspaper office and never could have become a journalist.
Then it dawned upon me that for all enthusiasm to write, I did not know what to write on. I struggled to come out of the writer’s block. Suddenly, I noticed a news item, which mentioned about the government’s decision to observe renowned engineer M Visvesvaraya’s birth anniversary as ‘Engineer’s Day’.
This was enough for me to overcome the block. I wrote a piece on the life and work of this great engineer. It was published in a newspaper.
One day, I went to meet a genetics professor to report on the activities of the department in my lab newspaper. I had to wait for sometime as the professor was busy interacting with his research scholar. I unintentionally heard the discussion on the research topic.
It was on the genetic health effects of consanguineous marriages. I forgot the work for which I went there and started noting down their discussion. I could further develop it to publish a feature story. Thus, you should derive ideas from the world around to come out of the writer’s block.
As an editor when I request many intellectuals to write for our newspaper; they either take a lot of time to put together their ideas or never do it. It is not that they are short on knowledge but because they suffer from ‘perfectionism’ syndrome. Many belonging to this tribe want to have perfect knowledge before they put pen on the paper or touch the keyboard.
Perfection, after all, is a continuous process. Never aspire for absolute standards. You are not writing for the last time in your life. You can always revisit it next time. For the time begin with whatever you know, try to share with others.
Everything in life is relative. People suffering from this perfectionism syndrome are normally scared of criticism. In fact, fear is a major reason why potential writers run out of steam. You can’t avoid criticism if you are in public domain. Even the greatest of authors fall prey to criticism.
As necessity is the mother of invention, at times you are compelled to produce something. Do you know how I began this ‘Life Lessons’ column? I was insisting my features desk to start a column on personality development. I waited for several weeks.
Each time they said they were scouting for a good writer. I felt that it was time for me to experiment. I never thought I would churn out pieces for so many weeks. Believe me, I have written for 60 weeks uninterrupted.
Even if you fail to churn out something at that precise moment, never give it up forever. The previous occasion was probably not the moment for your ideas to flow. It is true that every week, I wonder on a topic to write in this column.
I feel like telling my magazine editor that I am busy this week, I may not write my column. However, thoughts of procrastination, notwithstanding, I never missed out on the weekly deadline. An experience, interaction or something that I encountered or recalling an anecdote from days gone by help me in beating the writer’s block.
Never wait for an auspicious moment to begin writing. Never wait for someone or something to inspire you. Just start writing. Inspiration comes on its way. Do not take breaks in between. Your ideas may get dried up. As an Austrian novelist, playwright and poet Thomas Bernhard said, “Very often we write down a sentence ‘too early’, then another ‘too late’; what we have to do is write it down at the proper time, otherwise it's lost.”
The Center for Writing Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States offers some ‘Strategies for Overcoming Writer's Block’ (http://www.cws.illinois.edu/ workshop/writers/tips/writersblock/). Jot down ideas and phrases as they occur to you.
Free yourself from paragraphs and sentences for the moment. Write down everything you can think of about your topic. Jot down ideas for sometime without striving for perfect prose. You can rearrange ideas; put thoughts into complete sentences, edit, and polish. Do not worry about how to begin and about the word-flow. Start at a point you know well. You can work on the opening and the narrative, later.