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I saw the Bradley Cooper vehicle “Limitless” a few weeks ago and loved it, despite the somewhat mixed reviews. Early in the movie, he starts taking a drug that grants access to the 9/10ths of the brain we supposedly don’t use, and the first thing he did was overcome his writer’s block and finish his novel in four days. He went on to do lots of other things unrelated to writing and entirely related to shady dealings, but for me, the writing fantasy was simply wonderful. And my fascination, despite the negative side effects the character suffered, certainly worried my friend — she kept leaning over the armrest to whisper, “No! No drugs!”
Luckily, the drug was fictional, and given that I don’t indulge in anything stronger than Diet Coke (and the occasional mojito or three), I’m not in serious danger. But I read a Salon book review today that brought it all rushing back. And if that book can cure my block without the side effects of a (fictional) drug, perhaps it’s worth exploring.
The article is here; it briefly discusses “Limitless”, but is more focused on a book called “The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain” by neurologist Alice Weaver Flaherty. This quote from the article stood out to me: “In other words, beyond a certain point, the more difficult a writing task, and the more you think it matters, the more likely you are to become blocked.”
I’ll have to buy that book and get back to you on the rest of it, but that pretty much sums up my writing experience to date. If I’m just writing for fun, or if I have a pressing deadline, the words come out automagically. But if there is no deadline, just an exhortation to write the best book possible, and if the idea I have is so wonderful that I despair of ever getting it onto the page, I end up curling up into a ball and staring at the ceiling, wishing that my calling was something less difficult and more lucrative, like dentistry or accounting. (note: no offense meant to dentists or accountants)
I eventually manage to get the story out of my head, once I get over the fear, but the fear stage is a dark one. And if someone offered me a pill and said that it would cure the block…
…I don’t think I would take it. Not out of any sense of nobility or morality — I’m not a saint. But I would question whether whatever I wrote was really me, whether the experience was an authentic one or was somehow twisted as the chemicals in my brain realigned themselves. And for all that I complain about the block, I love what I produce when I overcome it — and overcoming it is just a part of my process, the same as proofreading or daydreaming or rewriting is.
Do you struggle with writer’s block? How do you handle it? And would you take the magic pill or suffer on without it?