Writer’s block is never something that has plagued me. I make a living as a writer and editor, and a deadline makes writers’s block a bit of a joke; there’s no time for such narcissistic indulgences.
Which is why I was intrigued by a story in The New Yorker, brought to my attention by the wonderful The Daily Post, about how a psychotherapist cured a screenwriter from writer’s block. The method, as I understand it, involved setting a timer for one minute, during which time the writer should “kneel in front of his computer in a posture of prayer, and beg the universe to help him write the worst sentence ever written”. A few weeks after doing what he felt was a pointless exercise, inspiration struck, creative juices flowed, a script got produced, and the writer ended up winning an Academy award.
While the psychotherapy programme is designed to “access the creative power of the unconscious”, I think the principle is simple: it’s a counter-intuitive way of shaking you out of fear. That could be fear of inadequacy, of the writing not being perfect, of losing the ability to write, of being laughed at, of being criticised, of never being published again, or at all. This method gives you the chance to write without fear of pressure or ridicule – and especially without having to be perfect.
And that, in my opinion, is what it’s all about. Perfectionism can hold me back. But if have permission to be imperfect, what comes out is not something crass or horrible – because I don’t believe writers with even a modicum of talent could write the worst sentence ever – but something alive and workable.
If I turn up at the keyboard and start typing, I trust that something will come out – not always insightful, magical or brilliant, but something is better than nothing, and I can always whip it into shape later.
In the meantime, I may just try that psychotherapist exercise of setting the timer and begging for divine intervention. Maybe my Booker-prize winning novel is just a few prayers away…