Writers Block

   Winter 2012

My mind beats on, my mind beats on, and no words come.
Thomas Mann

At times, all writers suffer from the inability to write. Some writers have endured mythic bouts of non-writing: sixty years for Henry Roth, four decades and counting for J.D. Salinger, the rest of her life following the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird for Harper Lee. During such periods, some find it impossible to write at all, while others suffer because they cannot write what they want to write as well as they wish to write it. In this state of mind – when “thoughts cease to flow and proper words won’t come” – something feels “off,” as if a vehicle has ground to a halt, or a machine has broken down.

The fluidity of the mind in harmony with itself has disappeared. In its place, something static, congealed, and stubbornly resistant to the will of the writer seems to have taken up residence. The writer’s mind feels fatally obstructed.

In 1949, a Viennese émigré psychoanalyst living in the U.S., Edmund Bergler (1899-1962), created the metaphor-laden term, Writers Block, to describe the condition. In his 1949 book, The Writer and Psychoanalysis, Dr. Bergler proposed that writers block was a form of self-sabotage, or “psychic masochism,” that originated in early life experiences during the oral phase of development. Today, Writers Block tends to be viewed in a more pragmatic context, and is often treated with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication.

In this conference, we will examine the analytic underpinnings of the metaphor, itself, alongside the set of characteristics known as Writers Block. To that end, we will hear from creative writers, writing teachers, and therapists who work with writers and study experiences of creative blockage. We will have some fun with this most dreaded state of affairs for any writer, and also share practical tips to help get the pen moving across the paper, or the fingers flying on the keyboard again.

KATE DANIELS, MFA, MS  is Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. She is a alumni of New Directions (2007), and the author of four collections of poetry, including Four Testimonies (LSU 1998), and A Walk in Victoria’s Secret (LSU 2010). She has just completed a prose work entitled Slow Fuse of the Possible: On Poetry & Psychoanalysis.

KAREN EARLE,  MFA, MA. currently, a psychotherapist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, PA. Karen Earle is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts/Amherst (MFA/poetry), the Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work (MSS), and the New Directions writing program. Before entering private practice, she worked as a college-level writing instructor. She continues to teach writing as adjunct faculty at the Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and as a discussion group leader in the New Directions program. Also, at New Directions, she now offers a Saturday workshop, Beyond Creative Block. She has had a sustained interest in creative process since her art student days at The Massachusetts College of Art in the late 60s. She was the recipient of the Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work award for best clinical writing by a graduate student. Her poems have appeared in a number of publications, including The Denver Quarterly, The Chaminade Literary Review, The Hudson River Valley Echoes. Her essay on creative process was published in the New Directions Journal.

JEAN MCGERRY is an Academic Candidate in Adult Psychoanalysis at the Baltimore Washington Institute of Psychoanalysis. She is the author of six books of fiction, among them the novel The Courage of Girls (Rutgers University Press) and the short story collection Dream Date (JHU Press). Her 2006 novel, A Bad and Stupid Girl (University of Michigan Press), received the University of Michigan Fiction Prize. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Yale Review, Boulevard, The Southwest Review, and others. She served as chairwoman of The Writing Seminars from 1997-2005

GREGORY ORR is a poet and essayist who teaches at the University of Virginia. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including How Beautiful the Beloved (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved (2005); The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems (2002); Orpheus and Eurydice (2001); City of Salt (1995), which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Poetry Prize; Gathering the Bones Together (1975) and Burning the Empty Nests (1973). He is also the author of a memoir, The Blessing (Council Oak Books, 2002), which was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fifty best non-fiction books the year, and three books of essays, including Poetry As Survival (2002). His work is particularly concerned with trauma, and post-trauma psychic survival.