I am a big fan of ‘how to’ writing books; I could open a generously stocked library with my collection, so I do know that there are always chapters devoted to, and even WHOLE books written on the subject of creative block.
There’s a lot of debate about whether creative block exists. Lots of authors are disparaging about the condition, suggesting that it’s a self-indulgence. Certainly those writing to order, like journalists, laugh derisorily and say ‘yes, well try telling your editor that you can’t meet your deadline because…’ Certainly when I’ve had a deadline for an article, I’ve never succumbed to creative crisis (though I’ve probably handed in a less well constructed piece, but I’ve always met the deadline).
But whether or not it’s officially acknowledged lots of people have experienced it - from the minor confidence wobbles to full blown paralysis. The worst experience I ever had was in the final year of my Fine Art degree. It was a terrible time to get it (and this probably contributed to the pressure) but I was very lucky to have a gentle tutor who was sympathetic. The Pull Yourself Together school of thought doesn’t work well with this condition.
For me the experience is characterized by something (a voice, a demon) in my head telling me I can’t write, I’m rubbish, why am I wasting my time, etc. (I realize that this sounds like a serious psychiatric disorder, but since it’s only telling me I’m crap and not to go out and murder someone, I’m fairly certain it’s not that condition!) I don’t know what it’s like for other people but I know that their experiences are similar. It’s utterly paralyzing.
As I recovered from my crisis in college I realized that what had happened was that I’d lost my faith – not a religious faith, but my faith or belief in my creative ability. I’d taken it for granted; damn, until it was gone, I didn’t even know I had it.
I understood something else aswell: having had postnatal depression after my daughter was born, I think that creative block and depression are close cousins. Or is depression the result of the creative crisis? Of course not being able to create is not the worst thing in the world to happen to someone, but if your good mental health depends upon you doing something creative, it is fairly damaging.
I haven’t got the answer here other than being gentle with yourself. I don’t know if it’s more naval gazing to be trying to rationalize it, but I do know beating yourself up about it when that’s what your demon is doing, isn’t the remedy.
I read somewhere recently that artists need their inner critic/demon/voice in order to get better, edit their work and so on. What you don’t want to do is silence it for ever because those critical faculties are essential. Maybe creative crisis is part of the writing process, perhaps it’s just a question of balance.
I’m not very good in the cold weather. I know that getting up and moving is the best thing for this, but I find it nearly impossible to do. I often say to people that I’m going to be one of those old ladies who sit in their chair, can’t move and die of hyperthermia. Creative crisis is a bit like that. You know that writing/painting/sculpting/whatever it is is the best cure, but you just can’t find the energy/belief to do it.
Julia Cameron has a trick that worked with me in college. In 'The Right to Write' she calls it an 'artist date' and it's about wooing your creative conscious. It needs to be nourished. I think of it like a bank account: you have to fill it up in order to draw on it. You may not be short of resources, but making the deposit can sometimes be a pleasure all of its own.