I have been there many times – staring at the empty virtual page as I question my own existence and ability to write. It is usually referred to as a writer’s block – although some say it is a disease that only creative workers succumb to. Some say it is a curse. Others argue that it does not exist at all. But I have experienced sitting in front of a blank screen, fingers itching to create a masterpiece, yet nothing happens. It is as if my mind is overwhelmed with ideas, scenarios, characters, plot, but I fail to write anything down as the words are somehow eluding me.
At times like this, I usually take a break. Most often it occurs by re-reading some books on writing such as On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King or The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Orhan Pamuk. One cannot produce without consuming. Quite often, reading books inspires me and gives me the needed level of confidence to start writing again.
Yet, this is not always enough. This is usually when I know I need to take some rest. I make sure I get adequate sleep and that I am not over-stressing myself. It is also a good time to start exercising regularly. Sometimes, you see, the problem is being inactive for too long. The flow of blood through the brain can have a lot to do with how creative we are, so making sure we are getting enough exercise will not only make us healthy and physically fit, but it will also put us in the right frame of mind.
Another approach I have found useful is to not write. I have observed that whenever I write for too long, it slowly kills my imagination, productivity, and willpower. What I do in my day and sometimes even days off-writing is to go out, enjoy myself, meet some friends and observe nature, to gain some inspiration and new ideas. This often results in feeling refreshed and full of desire to write and be productive again.
Nonetheless, there are times where the best antidote is to write despite my unwillingness to do so. In cases like this, I usually experiment with an author’s pieces of work. For instance, I will take a Kafka story and experiment with the form, changing the protagonist or use an unusual perspective. The end result might be grotesque, but it enables me to feel liberated from my own writing. In some rare occasions, I hit the rock bottom of desperation, so I start writing essays on how bad I am at writing. So far I have four essays on this topic, and I am sure that the number will only grow over time.
Another challenge I often face when trying to write creatively is to tell a story that has not yet been told. But this, of course, is impossible. There are currently 129,864,880 books in the world, according to Google’s Books project, and this number keeps on growing with over 440,000 books each year. Nevertheless, this should not put me off of the craft of writing. On the contrary, it should motivate me even more. Stories, characters, descriptions – at their core they might be the same, but it is the subtle details that delimitate Haruki Murakami from Paul Auster. Yes, all writers repeat themselves, but some recycle, and this is what makes them great novelists.
At the end, no matter the perils and the hardships of the writing craft, one always keeps on writing.
Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University. She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria. Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands. Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015. When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.