The Science of Writer's Block

Ironically, the reason I decided to go about writing an article on writer's block was because I was having trouble coming up with any worthwhile topic ideas to pitch at my weekly Her Campus editorial meeting. Staring at the screen, considering my options, I was struck with how strange my brain could be. Sometimes it was full, overflowing with ideas and creativity and sometimes, (like now) it was as if someone had stuck a cork in that creative cog in my brain. Mid-meeting, curiosity aroused, I did a quick search on why this might be the case. To my surprise, there seemed to be enough people asking the same question that a good amount of research had been done on the subject. I like to think that a scientist was similar to me in that they found themselves struggling to come up with a research question and then turned to actually studying the neurology of why this might be the case, out of pure frustration. Needless to say, I definitely now know that I am not the only one to suffer from writer's block.  a bunch of books Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

As individuals, we are all vastly different. However, there are still general theories (and accompanying research) as to why people as a whole may find themselves struggling with writer's block. One such study was conducted on a group of writers, all having suffered or currently going through a particularly bad phase of writer's block. They were categorized into four groups, those who were anxious or stressed, those who were angry or experiencing irritation, those who were apathetic and those who were hostile or disappointed. The results of the study suggested that those who were experiencing increased negative emotions seemed to also have increased struggles with finding things to write about. This creates the idea that generalized bad feelings often manage to thwart an artist's "creative spirit." In this way, dealing with any current problems you may have on hand and changing either your behavior or attitude towards the issues may actually lend itself to having an easier and more effective time writing. 

Conflicting with the theory mentioned above (as science often does), those without any level of negative emotions or angst also seem to have trouble with storytelling. According to psychiatrist Edmund Berlger's 1947 theory, writing is a bit of a "personal exorcism" and is done in order to expel personal demons. Although this may sound like religious pseudoscience, there is a fairly solid basis to it. Writing, just like talking, is a way of expressing feelings. These feelings could possibly be painful for the writer. For many, writing can actually be a way of expression and relief, as they share their struggles with the world. If this is done effectively it can actually help the person process their issues. However, if there are no issues to get through in the first place, there is a chance that the person attempting to write wouldn't have enough "material" to do so. Personally, I'm not sure how much I believe this one, but I thought it would be good to include it. 

a hand holds a pen writing on sheets of paper on a wooden desk. there's a coffee cup and a notebook in front of it. Free-Photos | Pixabay

Neurology and the very makeup of the brain has also been shown to play a role in writer's block. Many studies have been conducted on the area of the brain responsible for language creation. "Broca's area," located in the frontal lobe of the brain, is thought to be helpful in one's ability to create and write a story. It is areas such as this that tend to light up and become active (as seen on an fMRI) when a person is asked to begin brainstorming story ideas. Other areas of the brain have also been shown to be incredibly important in storytelling. According to Liya Swift, the "anterior cingulate cortex" is an essential part of a person being able to make associations between unrelated concepts, a prized and necessary skill for writers to have. Science is still not exactly sure what triggers these regions of the brain in a way where they would work effectively or not. However, it has been made clear that they are an important part of being able to write stories and the concepts that go along with them. 

Reading over this article, I find that it is not particularly helpful. It doesn't offer suggestions on how to prevent or lessen writer's block. It doesn't comfort the reader or say "don't worry; it will get better" (although there is a large chance that it will). However, I still think that the science behind it is fairly interesting and also rather validating. Whenever you simply cannot seem to find it in yourself to come up with a story idea or research paper topic, it isn't necessarily your fault. There are solid and research-driven reasons behind why this may be the case, and the answers to these questions are still evolving and changing. We are still not completely sure as to what causes writer's block. I'm hoping that whenever they do manage to figure it out, scientists can also find an accompanying solution, as I definitely need help with it more often than not.