People often talk or, ironically, write about ‘writer’s block’. Well I’m going to write about a different affliction, which I shall christen ‘thought-block’. It’s worse.
I think in words. I’m pretty sure that most people do. Although maybe artists sometimes think more in terms of colours or compositions, and then I suppose musicians might think in melodies, or even in harmonies. Intriguing … But none of those is an option for me. My thoughts are definitely in word-form.
The problem with my word-thoughts is that sometimes they get into a bit of a muddle. Instead of forming sentences, they are prone, occasionally, to spin entropically into mess. My head can become full of nonsensical phrases crashing into each other, so I have no idea what I’m thinking – what is trying to emerge from the chaos. This is thought-block. And it’s ghastly.
Yesterday I had a severe attack of thought-block. I woke up and felt awful. Really dreadful. My boyfriend was going away for ten days and my weekend was looking rather bare. As I said goodbye, I could feel all the words in my head begin to spin and mix themselves up, as though in a tumble-dryer. It swiftly became a blind empty panic, which was completely paralysing.
Once he’d gone, I lay in bed with a feeling akin to that which Salman Rushdie describes so astutely in his ‘Notes on Sloth’ in the current issue of Granta magazine. (109 Work. I can’t find the essay online anywhere, but, incidentally, it looks like it was a rather controversial piece. Details are in this article from the Bookseller.) Rushdie describes a new boy at boarding school, who starts to feel ‘unwell in an unfamiliar way’: ‘his arms and legs feel heavier than they ought to be. It is actually difficult for him to get out of bed and dress …’ I lay in bed in my dressing-gown, looking out of the window and half-listening to Radio 3, unable to move. Perhaps I was indeed feeling ‘slothful’. Maybe ‘depressed’ is slightly kinder. ‘Thought-blocked’.
I couldn’t get hold of any thoughts: words were just flying, slippery and dangerous, through my head. Unsure how to stop the stream of crescendoing nonsense and gather myself together enough to get out of bed, I phoned my mother. We arranged to go for a cup of coffee in half an hour’s time.
The coffee was disastrous. I still couldn’t articulate anything from my head, so trying to have a conversation was unbelievably frustrating and irritating. I found myself being completely horrid to mum and then we both started crying in the middle of the coffee shop. Everybody looked. It was grim. I eventually decided to leave.
I walked to the British Library. By then, my thought-block was reaching a critical level. My head was filled with noise – nonsense, folding in on itself again and again; my eyes were brimming with tears; I was full of hot rage about everything and nothing, and I didn’t know why. I had to sort my head out or else I would continue to short-circuit and I really didn’t want to explode.
I got to the British Library, sat down, opened up my laptop and began writing a list. Forcing out sentences was a way of freeing the words trapped in my head. The dust began to clear and I could see the problems. Here is the list:
1. My boyfriend has gone away for ten days, leaving me on my own. This makes me feel at once sad, because I miss him, and annoyed with myself for being so pathetic. After all, it’s not for very long at all, and we will speak lots on the phone. I should be tougher about it.
2. I have no plans for today, and can’t quite face finding a structure for a flat empty day, all on my own. This is connected to problem 1.
3. It was stupid of me to meet mum, when feeling like this. Now I feel even more frustrated and I can add guilt on to that too.
4. As a result of 1 and 2, I have a clear day ahead. I know that I should make use of this time to do lots of work on my novel. But my head’s in such a state I won’t be able to concentrate, and so it will be a waste of a day. I’m sure that real writers don’t get thought-block.
And it was that last thought that did it. Writing – maybe not my novel, but writing nonetheless – unblocks my thoughts. There they were, written on the screen in front of me, and my whirring head finally began to cool down.
The thing is, I think better when I write the words down. My particular word-thoughts don’t really care for being spoken; hearing them out loud or in my head doesn’t untangle or clarify them at all. They need to be typed up in black and white. Then they are given substance; they become visible, real, understandable – and so conquerable.
Yesterday actually turned out rather well. Soon after completing the list, a friend asked me round for dinner, so problem 2 vanished. The hilariously fun evening which ensued took the edge off problem number 1 and, on the bus heading down into south London for dinner, I spoke to my mum and apologised about earlier, thus dealing with problem number 3. But the best thing that came of yesterday was that, in an attempt to continue writing, but not get hopelessly stuck with the novel (problem number 4), I began this blog. Emerging from the ashes of entropic thought-block, EmilyBooks made its way into the world.