Fighting the block

Fighting the block

There comes a point in every writer’s life when there is the feeling that one has perhaps been writing for too long, so long that the well from which the words spring has dried up and it is at this point that one feels they cannot go on writing and have to stop.
Many term this is as the writer’s ‘block’, a phenomenon whose origins are made to sound mysterious, but which I find to be of a nature related to personal character unique to the writer than the mind from which the words the writer pens stem.

The block is not even a strange phenomenon, it is just the fallacy of the character that soon loses the truth of the fact that one needs to rest as a writer and take walks to look for more stories from the environs around, the people and the nature which are all part of the world in which we live that form the basis for the themes and the plots which our writing as writers explore.
In short, there is just no block but the simple loss of the sight of the well of inspiration that drives the words which we pen in our writings.

As an undergraduate those many years ago at the NUL’s Thomas Mofolo Library, I came across a writer who I respect to the present day for the depth of his themes and the elegance of his style in terms of penning stories that pose questions on our futile state of being as human beings: Albert Camus.

One morning, I came across a copy of the famous story of the character Meursault in the tale named A Happy Death.
I was attracted more by the picture on the cover of the book but the title confirmed my addiction with the book which I read at least three times before I returned it to the library desk, and there were more times that I would go back and read this magnificent tale of a young man begged by a crippled rich man to aid him in committing suicide.

Poor and alone, Meursault commits the kind act of euthanasia by using a revolver offered by the crippled rich man who states that he has lost all the joy of living and is therefore willing to pay someone to kill him because he does not have the courage to do it himself. Meursault collects the payment and goes back to his sad life of loneliness, the only difference being that he at least has the money to spend this time.

By exploring Camus’ Meursault I found my penning hand and began to understand that the pen can be a mighty weapon only if there is something to write about, for if there is nothing to write about, then it is all futile. In one of the short story collections that Albert Camus penned, there is the story of the artist (painter) who wakes up one morning to find that he cannot put his brush to the canvas to draw anything because he has lost all inspiration, in fact, he finds out that he does not know what to paint.

He fights this by placing his canvas on the easel but to no avail: there is simply nothing that comes from his mind to draw on the canvas.
And so, the poor man begins experimenting by first placing the canvas on the wall, and still, no picture comes for him to place on canvas, the connection between the brush and the palette and the canvas is in him but he cannot make that salient connection which requires him to dip the brush into the palette and to dab the canvas to get the picture.
He struggles to do this and ends up placing the canvas on the ceiling, thinking perhaps that the problem may be with the positioning of the canvas.

For days, he lies on his back staring at the blank canvas pining over the fact that there is nothing that is coming into his mind to guide his hand to draw something his audience at the gallery will get to view. And the story ends with the artist having drawn just a dot.

The dot is the most miniscule point of any drawing and under everyday circumstances may be considered the most minimal in terms of effect on the consciousness of whoever pens it or sees it.
The truth however is that the artist that failed to draw a sketch but managed to draw a single dot on that white piece of paper actually painted a masterpiece, he actually returned to the origin of his primary act of painting: for every painting actually begins with the dot which forms the starting point for the lines that will work together to form patterns, and it is these patterns that will enjoin to reveal a picture that the audience shall get to view.

This is the dilemma of the writer that is faced with the prospect of the fangled block that comes with the passing of every era in the writing life of a writer.
There is just no wrong in being blocked; there is just the simple occurrence of the reality that the writer needs to sharpen their mind with the exploration of new themes and to whittle their pen with the writing of new themes that will enlighten the world on concurrent realities. Reality is what we deal with on a daily basis and sometimes it eludes one as a writer and forces them to go out in search of it to form the words that will be penned.

I have had many inspirations, and they come and go concomitantly with the demands of the writing moment.
It does happen that the writer loses sight of the points of inspiration and has to find them again, and no matter how hard the travail may present itself to be, one just has to forget the populist term and find out exactly what it is that is blocking one’s inspiration as a writer.

There is no block as my findings currently reveal, there is just the need to find the way because it is lost.
It does happen that the fascination with the trending topic may lead to one losing sight of that which they initially set out to pursue from the first moment they decided to become a writer.
One does not write about writing but about topics and things and in a world where the fascination is with what is trending, the likelihood of one losing sight of their true goal in writing is very high.
The writer does not just write about everything, they actually choose a topic to follow and pursue it to the core at which point they look for another topic to pursue.

The black hole one enters at the point which the pursuit of their old topic has lost strength is what is termed the ‘writer’s block’.
Who panics at this point cannot find a new topic to pursue due to the simple fact that they cling to the old one and its glories. There is always a new world to explore, so should this be the guiding principle of the writer who seeks to escape the block.

When Vincent Van Gogh drew his masterpieces in those days, he never became famous and apparently sold just one painting in his lifetime. Over a hundred years later, his works reveal themselves to be lessons in art. Though sad in his time, Van Gogh actually went on painting despite the poverty and one wonders what the reason could be.
The reason is simple, Van Gogh painted art for the sake of art and not popularity; the challenge for the artist or the writer of the current times is popularity. Popularity is well and good, but focus on attaining it is detrimental to the author because he or she then loses sight of the meaning of the topic and the theme his or her works actually explore.
It is a constant struggle to follow the tail of the tale, and however elusive it may prove to be one should not be discouraged but should remember that which drove them to write about it in the first place. Writing and art are done for their sake, not someone else’s or something else’s.
The primary purpose of writing is to pass the message on or to pose the question that aids the different individuals that come across the work to better understand themselves or the world around them.

Writing without a message or a question is just sheer rambling and is drivel one should not tolerate.
The challenge of the moment is that one as a writer is faced with competition from real writers and those wannabes who have read a few novels and the stories of their writers’ popularity that actually force them to write, and they write on just about anything that can be put into sentences.
Sentences that follow each other without a connecting theme are not writing and as such, one who is forced to come across such bland pieces of writing on a constant basis ends thinking that they are writing.

One should learn what is right to read as a writer, for there is the constant need to refer to the writing of other writers that write for the sake of writing and not for the sake of popularity.
These are the type of authors whose works leave the reader a richer individual after their reading and not just mere appendages that serve only to fill the writer’s coffers and leave the reader empty in terms of knowledge and understanding.

We are taught to write about what we see most of the time and not what it means in life. The writer needs to first know what they are writing about and what it means in life for without the understanding of that meaning, then the piece to be written becomes a collection of sentences that are forcibly put together with connectives to give some semblance of a written piece.
I never set out to write without first understanding the meaning because it then becomes the guiding beacon that helps me to stitch the tale together to the end.
A loss in the understanding of the meanings in life leads to the writer stagnating and this necessitates that one needs to go back to the origin that got them; I go back to the pen and forget the laptop if the block comes in flowing fast and dark.

Remembering the original route one took always reminds one what it is they first set out to pursue in their writings.
The big fear of the writer that ends up being swallowed up by the block is simply due to the simple fact that the writer refrains or is scared of following the original road one followed.
The writer who has penned as much as one has written thus far need not be swallowed by the temptation to rest on one’s laurels expressed in the form of boasting about how much one has written in their lifetime.

There is always more to follow, more topics to explore and more themes to expose. Resting on one’s victories just simply means that one does not believe in a better tomorrow than the one is experiencing at the present moment in time. For the road to true life in writing to be seen, it has to be followed to the tee even if it is hard to see and for the past few months the road has been rather elusive.

I set out to chase the block threatening to engulf me and my writing sense in a black hole that would see me not perform at my optimum as a writer, exploring those themes that not only entertain but also leave the reader a richer person in terms of knowledge and understanding of the world around us.

There are glimpses of snippets sometimes, look closer and you will find there is more to them than just being vestiges of the world. For the world is ours to write about for some reader in the now and some vague point just before oblivion in the future.  Never allow the block and look deeper into yourself.

BY: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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