Throwback: Writer’s Block: When The Language Center Goes Mute

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writers block cartoon

I’m finalizing and editing that pesky post I previously mentioned. So while I prepare it for posting next week, here’s an old post worth revisiting and a topic we’re all too familiar with:

writer’s block.


What is Writer’s Block?

Writer’s block is defined as the inability to produce new writing.

It has a higher occurrence in people who are depressed and depression is more likely to occur in highly creative individuals.

Writers are eight to ten times more likely to be depressed than the less creative and an estimated seventy percent of poets suffer from manic depression [source].

Preservation, meaning being in a mental rut, is the hallmark of writer’s block. It is being caught in a cycle of trying to solve a mental problem that is no longer relevant.  This can lead to procrastination and pushing last minute deadlines.

Some thrive off this form of pressure and produce their best work. While this pressure allows some us to focus and push through, many procrastinators are soft-core adrenaline junkies.  Why?

Because we get a boost of dopamine and adrenaline as we approach a deadline.

If we look at the reward/punishment system, many of us try to implement to enhance our performance, it has only been proven effective for mechanical tasks but produces terrible results for mental tasks.

Like writing.

writers block cat

These mental limitations can lead to failures which can trigger feelings of guilt further increasing the anxiety which inhibit our writing and creative abilities.

Once that high goes away we have to deal with the effects of coming down from that high. This down-regulation of dopamine over time can become an addiction that manifests itself in many habits commonly seen in writers, such as caffeine and smoking.  Use of persistent dopamine stimulation leads to further down-regulation and dependency which isn’t even the problem: the problem is finding a healthy way to do so.

When we are under stress, control in our cerebral cortex shifts to the limbic system, which regulates our fight or flight responses.  These stress response locks part of our brain needed to write.

The amygdala, part of the limbic system, is responsible for assessing risk and distributing resources appropriately.  Our modern advances and stressors have made the amygdalan response surprisingly destructive [source].

So what causes this mental blockage?

On a quest for further understanding is Alice Flaherty, a neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital, who began researching this very phenomenon after suffering from a temporary bout of hypergraphia, a syndrome that results in an uncontrollable compulsion to write.

Intrigued, she decided to further pursue the neurological aspect hypergraphia and writer’s block.  With hypergraphia, everything is saturated with meaning, hence the incredible agility to write excessively but it can be a symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy [source].  Figuring how contradictory these two disorders were, she assumed they would yield opposite neurological findings.

writer sblock will ferrell nope

What she found was that brain scans of individuals with hypergraphia actually revealed similar abnormal activity in the limbic system as brain scans of individuals with writer’s block.

Both produce hyperactivity in the temporal lobe, the area of cerebral cortex that assigns meaning and significance to language.  However in the instance of writer’s block, scans showed decreased activity in the language center: the frontal cortex.

Writer’s block is then a product of decreased interaction between the meaning center and the primary center for producing language: the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe.  When activity in the frontal lobe is suppressed, the temporal lobe kicks into overdrive.

writers block calvin and hobbes

What’s the writer’s block cure?

A happy brain!

When you’re happy your brain performs faster, more efficiently and creatively.  There are two psychiatric disorders most linked to writer’s block and they are: depression and anxiety. Both show a decrease in brain activity in the frontal lobes.

Behavioral treatments that help with both anxiety and depression would be the most effective in aiding with writer’s block, such as exercise, psychotherapy, and meditation. Specifically exercise has been shown to balance chemicals, decrease stress, and bolsters happiness.

While self-management is key to the recovery and remission of these mental ailments, often people attempt to self-treat their blocks in ways that merely aggravate them neurochemically.

So if breaking a sweat is not effective and this has been a long-time issue, maybe it’s time to seek professional help.

In her book The Midnight Disease, Flaherty (2004, p. 147) elaborates further about treatment in the blurb below:

 

In the many people who have low-energy blocks with a depressed character, the success of antidepressant drugs, which work on serotonin, and also norepinephrine and dopamine, implicates these three systems. People with high energy block may benefit from these same drugs, but in addition may be helped to some extent by sedatives, which decrease cortical excitation. Whether blocks are high-energy blocks or low-energy blocks, their association with intense mood states demonstrates the importance of the limbic system in the desire to write.

 

writers block peanuts

In conclusion, Flaherty (2004) deduces that writer’s block is primarily a frontal lobe process rather than temporal lobe and appears to share the same silence as Broca’s Aphasia (the inability to verbally communicate) with the task specificity plus stress dependence of writer’s cramp (spasm affecting certain muscles of the hands and/or fingers); both considered frontal lobe neurological disorders (Flaherty, 2004, p. 147).

When writer’s block occurs: your facility with language decreases and your ability to assign meaning is amplified.  So while you end up producing less material with writer’s block, your “inner critic” is more powerful than ever. Unlike with hypergraphia where patients can write words but not all have the capacity to write complete sentences that have meaning.

So in moments like these when my frontal lobe is mute and spastic, I’ll get up and walk away and write about it. It seems to have helped, don’t you think? I managed to create a full post about it – Check. Mate.


 

Although I’m not technically experiencing writer’s block, I was experiencing researchers block. Thankfully, I’ve passed that hurdle and now I’m onto everything else which takes just as much time.  Looking forward to finally getting this post out of my drafts and published.

writers block snoopy custom

What’s your cure for writer’s block? What’s the longest it took you to finish a post?

Sources: Image Header

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20 Comments
  • Lady Lilith
    August 7, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    While I do not have a cure for writers block, I do have some backup posts created for my good days.

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 11:43 AM

      That’s a very smart thing to do – I don’t have the capacity or time to do that at this time. Lol 🙂 I have ideas though and love sharing research articles I find across the web. 🙂 Have a great one Lady Lilith! Talk Soon -Iva

      Reply
  • Tamara
    August 8, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    So. Interesting.
    As you know, I suffer from anxiety. It produces a lot of writing, actually, and so does happiness. Different sides of the same coin. The same me.
    I’ve never had depression for longer than situational – a few days here and there mixed with grief and change – but during those times? I cannot even fathom writing. I just cannot.
    So this struggle seems so very real.
    In college, I was taking six writing classes at once and writing six articles a week. I would always be ok at the last minute, but sometimes the scramble to get there was fierce.

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 11:52 AM

      Touche, anxiety and happiness – anger – all of it, can help produce writing if you’re keen on it while it’s happening. Wow – writing would probably be most helpful during those times of depression too. I get it though – everything is just quiet and dark when one is in a depressive state. I have history of depression due to the anxiety and earlier circumstances in life but I haven’t experienced any sort of depression really in the last 4 years. So progress. Damn 6 writing courses? You’re a trooper! I am last minute with my blog in that I don’t schedule beforehand, I go through extensive editing and double-checking links/sources. Ack! Have a great one Tam Tam! Talk Soon lovely -Iva

      Reply
  • Yulunda G.
    August 8, 2015 at 7:50 PM

    Yes. It took year’s for me to realize that I am an extremely creative individual. Needless to say, it took two bouts of clinical depression and anxiety to really understand how it works for me, what my triggers are and how to be healed from it.

    Now, no rush in completing the post you’ve been working on as its going to be wonderful I know. Slow & Steady Sistah!
    Have a great weekend! XOXO ❤

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 11:54 AM

      Glad you learned from your bouts of depression lovely! Creativity is so essential and remember that creative minds are more prone to depression as well. So yes knowing your triggers are oh so very important! Happy to hear you know what they are so you can recognize them.

      LOL I finished it, it’s finally up! Jeez it took me like a month!!! Slow and steady indeed – I think it turned out well right? YOu’ll let me know either way 🙂

      Have a great rest of the week gorgeous!!! Take Care Yulunda! -Iva

      Reply
  • Charlotte
    August 10, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    I absolutely love how much research and time you spend crafting your blog posts. The work and effort truly does show, and I wanted to let you know 🙂 I definitely suffer from writer’s block too, and def think it helps to step away.

    I’m with Tamara on this one too and echo what you said above re: anxiety and writing. Though it is kind of scary that writers are so much more likely to suffer from depression. That said, I, too, feel that rush of adrenaline the closer I come to meeting a deadline. It’s interesting to see the effect all of these things have on our brains, right?

    XOXO and thanks much for this!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 11:58 AM

      Why thank you love! I do try to ensure it’s reliable research. I love and appreciate your words, they make the effort worth it ever week I scramble to complete another post. Lol 🙂 Trust me, I scramble.

      Stepping away is crucial, I always step away before I hit ‘publish’ so I am 100% sure I am satisfied with the material I am about to publicize. I love the feeling of adrenaline, there’s nothing more satisfying than completing a writing piece. As long as you’re in tune with your triggers, as Yulunda mentioned above, then it’s more likely to prevent any bouts of depression and potential writer’s block. It’s important to listen to oneself. Which is easier said than done but always a work in progress. I love learning about and reading about all the effects all things have on our brains! Glad you all enjoy it too because I love to share!

      You’re welcome gorgeous, glad this article was helpful and insightful! Take Care and Talk Soon Charlotte! -Iva

      Reply
  • kathy @ more coffee, less talky
    August 10, 2015 at 7:56 PM

    i have tons of half-finished posts because i just couldn’t finish them due to writer’s block. i usually leave them and do something else then come back to them at a later time. sometimes i just don’t have any more inspiration so they remain draft posts for a while; other times i’ll want to write and complete a few at a time.

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM

      At least you have a few pre-planned! It’s something! I have a bunch, and I mean a shit load, of ideas and scribbles but they all take time to research. I use articles I find on the web as my last minute post ideas since there are weeks when I just have to take a step back from all the intensity of it all. Hey those that don’t get finished just don’t – it is what it is. 🙂 Have a great one lovely! Take Care and Talk Soon Kathy! -Iva

      Reply
  • GiGi Eats
    August 10, 2015 at 10:35 PM

    OHH MAN – when I get writer’s block, I GET WORRIED I am never going to be creative again – but then BAM something comes to me! Typically I am most creative right in the morning, until like 11 am, and then again RIGHT before I go to bed at night. ha!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 12:02 PM

      LOL! Too cute, of course you will be creative again! Half of the battle is believing and taking it easy – Just take a step back and eat something. 🙂 I tend to write in the morning too and do research in the evening/draw up drafts. I do get more creative in the morning but also have another burst in the early/late evening around 6-8 PM. I takes advantage! LOL See we’re kind of similar – great minds think alike 😛 Have a great one GiGi! Talk soon beautiful -Iva

      Reply
  • SMD @ Life According to Steph
    August 11, 2015 at 4:11 PM

    At any given time I have drafts of 30-50 blog posts. Some I will intentionally leave unfinished forever. Some the idea was better than the execution. Some will make it and be published.

    When I’m blocked in any kind of writing, I walk around the block or take a longer walk at lunch, then when I return I take the last thing I wrote and I put it up at the top and start again from there.

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 12:05 PM

      Holy crap! I am officially very impressed. Damn girl! You do pump like 3-4 blog posts a week minimum, I don’t know how you do it I tell you! That is true, hard-core dedication. I’m content with my one LOL. I have a few that remain unfinished and I’m OK with that.

      That’s an interesting tactic to take the last thing you wrote and move it up. I find that for me, it helps to physically print out what my draft looks like – and tear it apart with ink. Something about having that piece of draft in my hands and editing with a pen that changes the way I read and process what I wrote and where I’m stuck. It also helps me see the post as a whole and where structural changes may need to take place. This is mostly with really lengthy, pesky posts though. Like the one I just published today. Lol 🙂 Have a great one Stephanie! Talk Soon lovely!! -Iva

      Reply
  • Melissa
    August 11, 2015 at 8:42 PM

    Such a great post! Writers block is definitely something all bloggers can relate to. Whenever I get writers block I always try and get outside a bit, whether its going for a walk or a run or to the park. Haha as corny as this sounds nature revives me and definitely helps!!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      August 12, 2015 at 12:07 PM

      Thank you Melissa!! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Yes, I think we all definitely experience it time and again. It’s interesting how we all have developed mechanisms that are effective for breaking it. The most common is the stepping away and going outside, it really helps clear the mind. 🙂 Nah not corny at all, it’s a very valid point and a good way to be revived. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by lovely and talk soon Melissa! -Iva

      Reply
  • Ivory Asakura
    September 3, 2015 at 8:10 PM

    And, finally, I found that forcing myself away from my desk made me more effective when I came back to it. Stumped on a problem or fried after a week of grading papers, I would often wake up the morning after a gig in a bar or an intramural soccer game with a possible solution or a new energy that had not presented itself when I was thinking about nothing else and doing nothing else. Have writer’s block?

    Reply

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