Writer’s blog

I was in a workshop yesterday called “Beating Writer’s Block”. This image was displayed at the very beginning, and it made me think some interesting stuff about it. I thought I would share.

I have not written in a while here, and there reason is not writer’s block. I really had things to say, but I never have the time, and to be honest, blogging took a plunge in my list of priorities. Or it didn’t really, as I don’t think it was ever that high up the scale. But I enjoy blogging, I just had way more pressing things to do than that. And I did not feel I needed to write for fun, which I guess was a mistake. In any case, going to this workshop yesterday totally made me feel that I need to go back to blogging because it’s fun. I also need to be back because I have a responsibility towards fellow Mongrel PhDs. With great Mongrel power comes great Mongrel responsibility, if you wish. Someone has to jot down what doing a Mongrel PhD is like, in the hope that someone out there will feel comforted by the shared feeling.

I do not have, or have ever had during my PhD so far, writer’s block. Why did I attend this seminar, you may ask? Well, first of all, to tick the box. There was a parallel seminar running yesterday called “Writing in the middle of your PhD” and I could not get in. Me and my problems with MyCampus, part eleven. So I decided to go to this other seminar instead. What was I expecting to achieve? For myself, perhaps nothing. See the thing is I have never given too much thought to this whole Writer’s Block concept, and the only time it has come up in reading was whilst enjoying Paul Silvia’s How to write a lot. In there, Silvia describes ruthlessly a reality that I had never considered before:

I love writer’s block. I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and talking woodland creatures – they’re charming, and they don’t exist. When people tell me they have writer’s block, I ask “What on earth are you trying to write?”. Academic writers cannot get writer’s block. Don’t confuse yourself with your friends teaching creative writing in the arts department. You’re not crafting a deep narrative composing metaphors that expose mysteries of the human heart. The subtlety of your analysis of variance will not move readers to tears, although the tediousness of it might. People will not photocopy your reference list and pass it out to friends whom they wish to inspire. Novelists and poets are the landscape artists and portrait painters; academic writers are the people with big paint sprayers who repaint your basement.

Paul J. Silvia, How to write a lot, (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2007), p. 45.

I think Silvia says it all. Ever since I read that hilarious piece of writing, which amused me incredibly, I have been a non-believer. I wasn’t a believer before, really, but now I really don’t see the whole point in it. Much like Calvin’s argument here, I feel that writers consciously choose the block in order to disguise deeper feelings. The block doesn’t pick you because you’re a fraud, or because it feels you are weak or have nothing to say: you pick the block for those same reasons. And once you get to that conclusion, you will feel that believing in the writer’s block is no longer an option.

However, whilst people were listing the reasons why people might choose the block (not quite with those words, but you know), common features of human behaviour arose: fear of failure, fear of being caught out, having nothing to say, lack of self-confidence, etc. I felt, so about ten minutes, the slight worry that one might feel when leaving an exam: you think you have done reasonably well, and then you meet with your peers outside, and they are all chatting about the things they wrote and had issues with, and you realise you never even considered those issues. “Oh, crap”, is the feeling. Whilst people were listing their feelings, I had the slight worry that I have not felt any of those feelings so far, and that maybe to be more Pedigree PhD, I should feel them – just to know what it is about. Then I realised that, like with everything else, we all take different approaches, and it was unreasonable for me to attempt to feel something (negative) that I can’t even understand where it comes from. But that was it.

Yeah, I am glad to be back. Mongrels need representation.

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