I used to think writer's block was a lot like computer viruses: it didn't exist.
This was at a time when I worked as an IT Manager for a company of grey-faced asswipes. I was employed to make sure all the computers worked properly and to look toward making improvements in computer technology for the benefit of Asswipes Inc. (NB This wasn't really the company's name. I've elected to give them a false name and thought it would be appropriate to name the company after the Managing Director).
So, there I was, at another interminable meeting with other computer people, and some moronic sales person started trying to sell me some anti-virus software.
“Viruses don't exist,” I told him patiently.
He stared at me as though I was stupid. He started to reel off facts and figures. I interrupted him. “Viruses don't exist,” I said flatly. “I've never had a virus on my computer. I've never had a virus on any of my office computers. I think viruses are just a myth put about by anti-virus software salesmen, to try and scare people into buying anti-virus software.”
He started to talk about the severity and high risks from various malicious software.
I told him this was the sort of thing I would expect an anti-virus software salesman to tell me if he was trying to perpetuate the myth that viruses existed. The meeting concluded without the salesman making a sale and with me feeling smugly proud that I had boldly exposed the truth to one of Satan's league of anti-virus salesmen.
I continued feeling smugly proud until I returned to the office and discovered the company's network of computers had been infected with a virulent and malicious virus. This was an annoying Trojan virus that sent itself via email from one person's computer to everyone in that computer's address book. The telephone was ringing with complaints from angry clients and customers, as well as the company's ISP who were wanting to know why we were monopolising so much bandwith.
As I recall, that was one of those days that marked the beginning of my end at Asswipe Inc. I discovered that the infection had come from the MD's computer. He'd been accessing porn and happened on a link that was apparently too tempting to resist. Or, as it said in the official company report that he sanctioned, 'It is impossible to ascertain the true source of the viral infection.'
And so, once I'd experienced the thrill of computer viruses, I began to believe in them.
To me, writer's block is a similar condition. I didn't believe in it until it struck.
I had been of the mindset that writer's block was not a real condition: it was an affectation put on by those who wanted to be writers but didn't want to put in the necessary hours slapping words onto paper. I'd always thought it looked like a great sympathy-generator for cocktail parties. If someone complains that they're a writer with writer's block it's like saying you're a qualified astronaut but you're currently suffering from a fear of spaceships.
In some ways, being a writer with writer's block is better than being a writer without writer's block. No one can criticise your work (because you haven't done any) and everyone tuts sympathetically because it must be so terrible to be in a situation where you can't express yourself artistically. People don't tut sympathetically when you tell them you've just finished two chapters in one week and you're halfway through a third.
But I was still of the opinion that writer's block was a crock of horseshit. Right up to the moment when it struck.
I have to admit, I was stunned to find myself unable to write. I've been published for more than a decade now and, sitting down in front of my PC and discovering that the words weren't going to come, was horrifying.
I tried displacement activities. Tetris. Risk. Solitaire. Minesweeper. FreeCell. They all entertained me for a brief period. But, all the time, I knew they were only displacement activities and not helping me to overcome the problem.
I tried to busy myself with chores. I did the washing. The ironing. The cleaning. The cooking. A little decorating. I even had some sex. But, all the time, I knew I was only hiding from the real problem.
Personally, I think, writer's block is nothing more than a fear. The writer is scared of putting words on the page for fear that they will be perceived as inadequate, amateur or lacking in some other respect. If the writer doesn't put words on the page, at least the writer can't be accused of inadequacy, amateurishness or some other shortcoming.
And so, to overcome my personal bout of writer's block, I forced myself to sit in front of the computer and made myself write and write until the words started to flow. It was not easy. And I'll admit now, I wouldn't like to revisit the horror of that experience. But I am now in a position to concede that, just like computer viruses, writer's block is a genuine debilitating condition that does exist.
And I should also add, whilst I was stricken with the debilitating condition of writer's block, it felt like the longest two hours of my entire life.