Writer's Block is a Life Problem; or An Experiential Inquiry into the Nature of Writer's Block

I haven't been able to write. I want to, I've tried, I've even started a few articles, but it just won't come. And, I know why.


"Why am I writing?" I asked myself that question around 6 months ago and said, "Because I want to, if feels good, and I like it." That answer was enough to carry me these past months. For some reason I asked myself that question again a few weeks ago. I answered in the same way, but the answer fell flat this time. I've had some really good feedback, my views keep increasing, but something's off. At first I thought it had to do with writing. But, that's not it. My skill has been increasing, and I have a never ending supply of ideas. So, what's been wrong?

Well... the short answer is - life. My writing is just a microcosm of a more general set of dilemmas. I've entered a few contests. I haven't won, but that's to be expected. Judging contests are purely subjective, even rejection rates from publishers is astounding. Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers, and many other successful books were rejected a lot more than that. But, it brings up a greater issue. What am I doing with the writing? Am I going to try to get published? Am I going to self-publish? Am I going to keep entering contests? If I'm not going to try to be commercially successful should I be doing it? Should I be focusing elsewhere in my life? And here is where the "life" part starts to come in.

My health is limited because of my spinal issues. My energy is therefore limited, including my waking time. My money is very limited partially because of the combination of medical debt and limited work options owing to the health issues. Combine that with my other personal deficiencies and you can imagine that I barely make my small amount of bills every month, 400 of which is medical. "Personal deficiencies" is where it really starts to expand.

There's a gorgeous young woman at a bookstore I go to. And, she has a great personality. I've almost asked her out every time I've talked to her, but I purposefully haven't. In years past I would have done it almost right away. Now though, if she asked me if she should go out with me I would have to advise her against it because I don't have much other than interesting conversation to offer. The prospects for my future seem rather dim. There's the potential for an unlimited amount of uncertainty while acting in the world, but my primary uncertainty stems from myself, and that's rather annoying.

My health fluctuates. That makes it hard for me to rely on myself. I'm not sure if I'm going to be mentally sharp or dull, if I'm going to be in a small amount of pain or a great amount of pain. Add on top of that an already relatively unstable natural personality (you can see four psychological profiles that I have available on my about page: http://www.jeffreyalexandermartin.com/p/a-ton-of-other-stuff-about-jeff.html). You can explain it in different ways, as an example: I have an oddly high openness to experience that makes me want to explore, a very high neuroticism that makes me mull bad things over in my mind often to say the least, low agreeableness that lets me disagree with people, really low conscientiousness that leads to me being inactive and unorganized, and extraversion that makes me want to be alone. You have to combine that with my cultural environment, how I was raised, my experiences, etc. For instance, it's for those reasons that most people that know me would balk at the natural tendency towards inactivity, because I tend to act against my natural inclinations in that area a lot. That goes for extraversion quite a bit now too. The experiences over the last two years have been different though.

Many people experience post traumatic stress disorder after events like the treatment and situation that I encountered in Kenya. It's often different than people think. Realizing that it's so easy to be such a vulnerable victim is hard for a lot of people, and realizing that you yourself have a high capacity to do bad things is hard for a lot of people. I've had some utopian-esqe ideals in my youth, but I moved past these simple naive beliefs a long time ago. The human capacity for malevolence is essentially unlimited, both mine and others. Knowing that, and feeling that, is basically an inoculation against post traumatic stress disorder. Many people, most people, actually have post traumatic growth. You realize your life is limited and you want to live it fully, something like that. My reaction was more like that, but then my health just kept going sideways.

I had so many ups and downs. I had this tendency to be kind of dismissive towards my health issues. Most doctors don't really do anything, they just wait for the body to do its thing. I know that. So, get on with your life and the body will do its thing. That's a great attitude when it works. When it doesn't work most doctors also don't know what to do. My health was so confusing for about 6 months, to a certain extent even 12 months. And I kept thinking of it as something to overcome, something to move past, something to fix. Even now I kind of have that attitude. But, life has beaten me back so hard so many times now that it's wearing me down. A decently high IQ, with a high openness to experience, plus a longtime reading obsession is the perfect recipe to be able to blend, combine, and mix ideas. I understand a lot more about my past now; for instance, it's very possible that the miscarriages that my girlfriend had a number of years ago are because my genes don't encode developing the central nervous system correctly in the fetus. And I can come up with a lot of ideas and plans for the future, but that's where the issue is.

In the short term I can problem solve things like my finances. I'm filling in more hours teaching and working on cutting back on other things to increase my income. I'm just looking at teaching as punching a clock now, mostly, although not completely. (The large company that I can get more hours at is just a huge bureaucracy.) In a few more months I will have one medical bill paid off, which is 60 dollars a month. I can plan it out to default on the one bill that's a little over 10 thousand dollars. That cuts out 190 dollars a month. After about 3 months I can talk to them about settling it for maybe about 3 grand, which I will be able to save up because I'm increasing my income and lowering my expenses between these two medical bills, plus I have a little saved already. Perfect. So, maybe in about a year I can get out from under this debt. But, so what?

I have to figure out what I am going to do. And, even before then I have to act that plan out. Now comes the uncertainty that stems from me. I used to have no problem working 2 or 3 jobs, working everyday for long hours, and doing a bunch of other stuff too. But now it's different. I'm not sure what my capacity is going to top out at, but it is going to be less than most people. On the financial end I don't have too much of a choice other than to try, so I'm going with it. Luckily my mother is helping me a ton, another major personal deficiency of mine. It goes with my personality, I believe. Neoteny, the tendency of animals to retain characteristics from youth. This is a very human thing. Humans remain playful their entire lives, most animals (including chimps) are only playful when they are young. That's neoteny. This also happens in domesticated animals. The most striking example being the pig because when they escape they turn back into boars relatively quickly. Humans are the only animal to have domesticated themselves. People also do this as individuals, as genotypes and phenotypes. I seem to have some neotenous tendencies. There are upsides and downsides to it. I'm not sure I value it positively right now. The key though is the future.

To go beyond some kind of survive from month to month plan requires more. It requires better thinking and more energy, in short - more health. I seem to have hit a plateau with my health recently, and I'm changing some things to experiment with that, but it's more of an excuse than anything. There are self-made multi-millionaire quadriplegics. Within that context I don't have a set of great excuses. And yet, I'm uncertain. Should I launch my own teaching company? I don't know. I don't know if I can handle it. Usually an endeavor like that requires a lot of energy and/or resources. I don't have either. I don't want to commit. Should I just focus on the writing? But am I even planning on trying to make that commercial? If I do, do I even have a shot? Should I drop it so that I can focus on doing something more practical like the teaching company? What happens if I have a major health drop in the near future? Why have a bunch of stuff half done? These questions could go on for many paragraphs. I don't have good answers to them, so I hold back. I don't ask out the girl because I'm uncertain about my future, I don't start the company because I'm uncertain about my abilities, I don't write because I'm uncertain about what I'm going to do with it. These are the classic problems that all people have to deal with, uncertainty and scarcity. I've just failed to deal with them well before and now I'm not certain I will be able to deal with them in the future.

The person that makes the decisions that leads them to the situation that I'm in is not doing that great at making decisions. My life has been great in many ways, but the future is what we live for. I've limited my future, and it just keeps shrinking. My life is always overflowing with opportunities, and I've seized a number of them, but now I'm afraid to reach out because I'm uncertain of my own abilities. That's the true story of writer's block. It's a psychological issue that encompasses your life.

Luckily I've been trying out different ideas trying to write something, and finally I came to the solution of writing about not writing. It seems to have worked.

What will Jeff write next? No one knows. Find out at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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