Whatever we do know about writer’s block problems, we know that they are not something new. It is something that is well documented throughout history, although the term wasn’t coined until 1947 by Edmund Bergler, a psychoanalyst. Bergler used the term writer’s block to describe the process of a writer’s “well of creativity” drying up, which is a thing that can be total or partial. Writer’s block can manifest itself either through an author completely abandoning their work, or simply failing to create anything new. The latter was the unfortunate case of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the famous English poet.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote his Lyrical Ballads with William Wordsworth, also suffered from writer’s block. Most of the poems and works for which he is known were produced when he was in his mid-twenties, and he expressed a deep apprehension for any writing project after that. He spent the majority of the rest of his life in the hands of opium addiction. Coleridge was still writing things of a journalistic or critical nature during this long period of his life, but he stopped producing the content that had made him known and that he truly wanted to produce. When a friend asked him why he didn’t change course, he responded that telling him to shake of writer's block was akin to telling a paralytic man to rub his arms together to be cured. Fellow writers have echoed Coleridge’s feelings over time, and Coleridge was clearly exhibiting many of what Bergler found to be signs of writer’s block.
Through his research, Bergler found that the earliest manifestations of writer’s block can be insecurity about your creativity as an individual and looking to other’s for inspiration for future projects. Coleridge exhibited both of these qualities. It’s clear from Coleridge's response that he was deeply insecure about his work, and probably suffering from the pressure of his previous, highly successful works. It’s possible to infer from the fact that he went on to do more journalistic and critical writing that he was also paying close attention to others’ work, looking for stimulation for his own writing, instead of focusing on creating new ideas. Both of these traits seem to have led Coleridge down an ultimately unfulfilling road, as he became a spectator in something he was once in the midst of.
Because writer’s block is the blocking or hindrance of the mental process of creativity, you must first understand creativity, how the brain works, and how to gain control of both of them. The brain is separated into two distinct halves – right and left. They both have equally important but different functions, and both aid a writer in their writing process. Many people think that it is only the right brain that handles creativity, but truly good writing is a healthy balance of the right brain and the left. Without a sense of balance between the two, writing can become either stale or hyperbolic. Knowing the various functions of each can help writers keep their wits about them, and help them develop tools to be able to access creativity more quickly and effectively.
In Right Brain, Write On! by Bill Downey, writer's block problems are explained as the inability to switch from thinking with the left brain to thinking with the right brain. The left brain is responsible for things like driving, doing your taxes, and organizing information. Most of these things have little to do with the creativity necessary to create a work, and can be formidable foes to student trying to write anything creative. Downey posits that the better a writer is, the quicker they can switch from using their left brain to using their right.
By keeping a keen eye on signs of writer's block problems, teaching students to alleviate pressure on themselves and give themselves freedom to make mistakes, and teaching students to more quickly activate their right brain functions when creativity is needed, we can help students actively avoid it, and help them perpetuate their creativity in the future.