“Neurotic inhibitions of productivity.”
That was what Dr. Edmund Bergler called it in the 1940's. Who the heck is Edmund Bergler anyway, you ask?
He was the man who first coined the term:
After conducting multiple interviews and spending years with writers suffering from creative problems,
he discarded some of the theories that were popular at the time.
They hadn't drained themselves dry. They were not victim of a lack of external motivation: pay the landlord.
Nor did they lack talent nor possessed by laziness nor were they simply bored.
In a 1950 paper called “Does Writer’s Block Exist?,” published in American Imago,
a journal founded by Freud in 1939, Bergler argued that a writer is like a psychoanalyst.
He “unconsciously tries to solve his inner problems via the sublimatory medium of writing.”
A blocked writer is actually blocked psychologically—
and the way to “unblock” that writer is through therapy.
Psychiatrists all over America are now rubbing their hands
in eager anticipation of hordes of anguished writers.
Not so fast there, Doc!
In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, the Yale University psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios
tried to gain a more empirically grounded understanding of what it meant to be creatively blocked.
To give you the Cliff Notes version of their findings:
Blocked writers did, indeed, suffer from
flagging motivation, felt less joy in writing, daydreamed less, and could not recall their dreams.
The famous prolific writer, Graham Greene, fell victim to the dreaded Writer's Block
and stumbled onto a solution that worked for him.
In his fifties, he faced a creative “blockage,” as he called it,
that prevented him from seeing the development of a story or even, at times, its start.
In his youth, he had kept a dream journal.
The dream journal proved to be his savior.
Dream journaling was a very special type of writing, Greene believed.
No one but you sees your dreams. No one can sue you for libel for writing them down. No one can fact-check you or object to a fanciful turn of events.
He once told a friend:
“If one can remember an entire dream, the result is a sense of entertainment sufficiently marked to give one the illusion of being catapulted into a different world . . . .
One finds oneself remote from one’s conscious preoccupations.”
In that freedom from conscious anxiety, Greene found the freedom to do what he otherwise couldn’t:
Such escapes allow writers to find comfort in the face of uncertainty;
they give writers’ minds the freedom to imagine,
even if the things they imagine seem ludicrous, unimportant, and unrelated to any writing project.
Greene once had the following dream:
"I was working one day for a poetry competition and had written one line
—‘Beauty makes crime noble’—
when I was interrupted by a criticism flung at me from behind by T.S. Eliot.
‘What does that mean? How can crime be noble?’ He had, I noticed, grown a moustache."
Why not try putting down your last dream into prose?
As Louis L'Amour wrote: "The water does not flow until you turn on the faucet."
Go ahead: explore your inner self. You might be surprised what you find.