All sorts of things can cause paralysis in a writer – failure, success, a blank page – but at the root of each, I think, is fear. Writing is scary, partly because it has an alchemical relationship with thinking which is poorly understood. Through writing, you can learn things you didn’t know before, and that includes things about yourself. Those things can be uncomfortable, upsetting, daunting. No wonder so many people are scared of writing to the point of paralysis.
This even happens to experienced writers. It happens to me. It’s been present over the last couple of weeks, since my previous blog post was picked up by the LSE Impact Blog and was widely circulated on Twitter. How can I follow that, I thought? What should I write next? I’ve been completely unable to decide: I started one post, then another, but nothing seemed right.
I remembered a young man I encountered a while ago who was determined that every year of his life should be better than the last: more fun, higher achieving, superior in every way to the previous year. So far, he’d managed it, and he was convinced he could continue in that vein for the whole of his life. Only if you die young, I thought to myself, but I didn’t say so; it would have been a shame to shatter his illusions. But I don’t believe it’s possible. If he lives long enough, a year will come when he gets his heart broken, or someone very important to him dies, or he is diagnosed with a crippling illness – or just has a mediocre year. That’s life. Ups and downs.
And that’s the writer’s life, too. Thinking about that young man, I understood that in a way I was trying to emulate him, and it wasn’t possible. Then I realised afresh what in fact I’ve known for many years: the only cure for writer’s paralysis is to write. Don’t give in to the fear. Put some words on the page. It doesn’t matter how good or bad they are – that never matters – the point is to have some words to work with. Forget the failure and the success: cover that blank page, and the fear goes away. Never completely, at least not in my experience, but the more you write, the more you can keep it at bay.