A complaint seemingly common among writers is the creative barrier known to many as ‘Blank Page Syndrome.’ Further down the line, when the pages are no longer blank, the term ‘Writer’s Block’ is adopted to denote a similar phenomenon.
Here, I do not claim to offer a definite solution to the problem, nor will I offer up a selection of inane tips and tricks which may or may not help in some small amount – such information is readily available elsewhere. Instead, I intend to outline for you a theory which I recently stumbled across while researching the role of the unconscious mind in day-to-day life. This information alerted me to what I dare say is the true cause of creative blocking, thus allowing me to develop my own techniques in order to overcome the obstacle.
The theory in question is offered up by Freud in his oft-cited and eternally popular work ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, in which he likens the state of mind required of his patients during psychoanalysis to that which must be adopted in order to create; in this case, poetry. In doing so, he refers to a correspondence between the poet-philosopher Friedrich Schiller and a friend who has recently complained of a lack of creative power. Schiller’s insightful reply – dated December 1, 1788 – is self-explanatory and in many ways revelatory:
‘The reason for your complaint lies, it seems to me, in the constraint which your intellect poses upon your imagination. Here I will make an observation, and illustrate it by an allegory. Apparently it is not good – and indeed it hinders the creative work of the mind – if the intellect examines too closely the ideas already pouring in, as it were, at the gates. Regarded in isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea which follows it; perhaps, in a certain collocation with other ideas, which may seem equally absurd, it may be capable of furnishing a very serviceable link. The intellect cannot judge all these ideas unless it can retain them until it has considered them in connection with these other ideas. In the case of a creative mind, it seems to me, the intellect has withdrawn its watchers from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude. You worthy critics, or whatever you may call yourselves, are ashamed or afraid of the momentary and passing madness which is found in all real creators, the longer or shorter duration of which distinguishes the thinking artist from the dreamer. Hence your complaints of unfruitfulness, for you reject too soon and too severely.’
Towards the end of the letter, Schiller appears to gradually lose his temper as he damns the close-mindedness of his addressee; a slightly harsh approach when you consider just how unlikely it is that somebody may discover this occasionally detrimental, although most often vital in order to stave off madness, function of the human mind. He also seems to suggest that a truly creative mind – such as his, it would probably be fair to assume – is fundamentally different to a non-creative mind in its ability to withdraw the watchers on cue; a disheartening prospect for those of us who strive to be creative.
Fortunately however, Freud disagrees and suggests that no such divide exists. Citing his own vast experience of encouraging patients to ‘withdraw their watchers’, he assures us that ‘such a transition into the condition of uncritical self-observation is by no means difficult.’ Good news indeed, but how?
Consider this; in calming yourself to a relaxed, tranquil state, consciously welcoming the flow of naturally occurring ideas as they pass unimpeded through the open gates and become fully-formed thoughts, you will quickly discover that the psychic energy saved by the renouncement of the critical process can be used to deal with the new ideas in other ways, such as tracing their origin for psychoanalysis, or collating them, as Schiller suggests, for review and use in creative practice.
Therefore, by spending a little time actively welcoming the ideas which are usually held at the gates of your intellect, in the words of Freud, those ‘‘undesired’ ideas are thus changed into ‘desired’ ones.’