Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writer's Block and Computer Viruses

by Ashley Lister

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.

18 comments:

  1. What a punch line! Ashley, you are a genius!

    Asswipes Inc.'s loss is all of our gain.

    Hugs,
    Lisabet

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  2. I also had to comment due to the last line. Although you may want to look at your time-management whilst performing those displacement activities: two hours to do the washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking, decorating and sex?

    I usually get all of those done within an hour.

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  3. LOL! Ashley, it's a good thing your writer's block didn't hit as hard as Asswipe's computer virus did ;)

    I once read somewhere that the cure for writer's block was scrubbing toilets. Really, it was either sit and writer or scrub the john. I've found it usually works so well I don't even have to enter the bathroom to try it.

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  4. Hilarious, as always! I laughed out loud at the "I tried to busy myself with chores ... I even had some sex" masterstroke. Brilliant!

    Something I was thinking about last night: For years, I've had my operating system set a pale-blue default background color to the applications I use. In other words, I typically get pale blue text fields, location bars, etc., rather than white ones—and it applies to Word documents (in their entirety) as well. I find this more pleasing to the eye than the starkness of white (without being obtrusive)—though I'm so used to blue now that I rarely think about it. But here's where I'm going with this ... though I won't claim that I've never had writer's block, I was wondering last night if the relatively less intimidating template of a blank blue page helps stave it off. Perhaps the empty expanse of blue invites creativity (blue-sky horizons?), rather than glaring at the writer in defiant blankness, as a white page can do.

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  5. Ash, I knew you'd have trouble doing this one straight! Two hours!Getting all those chores done as well as having a little sex, and how else could you describe it if you were that fast, is amazing. Guinness should be notified, yes?

    Thanks for the chuckle!

    Hugs

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  6. Great post, Ash. You crack me up.

    ~ Jenna

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  7. Lisabet,

    In fairness, Asswipe Inc now have computers that worked a lot better than whilst I was there ;-)

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  8. PGCE Student,

    You might be able to get all those tasks done in an hour, but YOU know how much I enjoy doing the washing.

    Ash

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  9. Helen,

    Scrubbing loos would probably unblock most people's writer's block. Then again, I've read some published authors who might have better spent their time scrubbing the toilet :-)

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  10. Jeremy,

    It's been suggested before that you and I were separated at birth and now I discover that you also prefer writing with a blue background.

    I've just upgraded to Office 2007 which doesn't have this facility and I'm struggling to deal with the 'new look' of a white page again. You're right: it is daunting.

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  11. Jude,

    Chuckle? Every word of this is true!

    :-)

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  12. Jenna,

    I'm glad to hear I've made you smile.

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  13. Ash, I thought you were computer brilliant. Using Windows 2007, you can easily change your background to a solid color, or waves or whatever you like. I'll email you.

    Jeeze! Men!

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  14. You guys are a great comedy team--my daily dose of humor and inspiration. In fact, thanks to Ashley's wacky view of life, I managed to write a whole 2K today.

    Chris

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  15. Hi Ashley

    Great post. I particularly like the part about spaceships. I think writer's block is a dodge very often. Other times its akin to impotence. Just a horrible feeling.

    I'm surprised you didn't believe in computer viruses at first. I ran into them early on. I lost a lot of stuff to viruses.

    Garce

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  16. Chris,

    Delighted to hear you got 2K down on page.

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  17. Garce,

    I know it sounds crazy but, at the time, I thought viruses were a huge myth like all the Y2K nonesense that was floating around at a similar time.

    Of course, now I know that viruses are out there, I am anti-virused to the point of silliness at home.

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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