Writers’ block: the malware in your brain

bluescreen of death

Are you blocked and failing to make progress with your writing? Prize-winning writer and creative writing tutor Ros Barber takes a look at deep psychological barriers people have to writing and shares a technique that helped her dissolve her own blocks.

Your brain as a computer

Imagine your brain as a computer.  You want to write a book, and you keep launching the ‘Write Book’ software, but it never gets very far before it crashes.  A few random key-presses and it’s the Blue Screen of Death. Your computer is fine – it’s your brain that’s not working.

You reboot your writing mind but it’s always the same.  It seems you can write small things; short stories, small articles, poems.  But when it comes to making any headway with The Book, that big project that you’ve been dreaming about for quite a while now, the software crashes pretty much every time.  What’s going on?

Initiating the ‘write book’ software

Unknown to you, you’ve probably got some silent software running in the background.  This kind of software doesn’t show up as an active program; you’re not running it consciously.  But if you were to boot up your brain’s Task Manager and look at the background processes you’d see it there. Most of these programmes were installed in our childhoods during specific traumatic events, and initiating the ‘Write Book’ software is one of several actions that will start them running in the background.

  • TeacherSaidIWasThick.exe
  • WholeClassLaughedAtMe.exe
  • ThatMonumentalFailure.exe

The purpose of these programs is to keep you safe and make sure similar traumas don’t occur.  The safest way to ensure you don’t experience monumental failure, or being laughed at, or being made to feel stupid, is to take no risks.  So these ancient subroutines kick in, crash the Write Book software, and have effectively done their job, protecting you from any chance of further emotional damage for another day.

“The safest way to ensure you don’t experience monumental failure is to take no risks.”

Occasionally, sheer willpower will over-ride them, but most books projects require more consistent application than mere willpower can provide. Willpower is a fine little battery for a couple of hours, but on a day-to-day basis, what you need is a mains lead.

Psychological barriers to writing

shutterstock_245108374For most of us, these programs aren’t even the half of it.  More often than not, we are running some serious malware accidentally installed by our parents. This results from our brain being hooked up to others in a local area network (designation: family) and becoming infected through that connection; understandable, since our parents had the same malware accidentally installed by their own parents.  Larkin has a famous poem about this. This persistent malware comes in many forms, and pretty much never stops running.

Common variants are:

  • IAmNonGoodEnough.exe
  • TheWorldIsNotSafe.exe
  • ItAlwaysGoesWrong.exe

This stuff can be tricky to uninstall, because the chances are your brain was repeatedly infected over an 18 year period (and may still be being reinfected today).  Additionally, once we believe something, we will tend to have experiences that reinforce that belief, and these program names will begin to sound true.  In other words, we begin to mistake the malware for our operating system. This kind of malware can make it hellishly difficult to do something which requires so much commitment, something so courageous, so positively audacious, as writing a book.

Tools to uninstall and unblock your writing

Fortunately there is some nifty anti-virus, anti-malware software now available for our brains.  I’ve been trialling two different types for eight years now, first uninstalling the unhelpful programs in my own brain, and subsequently helping other writers to do the same.

Both EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and PSTEC (Percussive Suggestion Technique) are brilliant tools that writers can use to uninstall the subconscious programs that are making writing difficult.

EFT is so effective that its use has grown very rapidly over the last ten years and the chances are, and most people I speak to these days knows someone who has used it to good effect. It is potentially the most powerful of the two techniques, but can be ineffective if you haven’t learned how to use it properly.  PSTEC is easier to do on your own, without guidance, but in my experience it doesn’t lead to the insights, and subsequent mental clarity, that you get with EFT.

“Writing is a hell of a lot easier without sub-conscious self-sabotage.”

If you’re getting nowhere with your book, I thoroughly recommend you find out about these two brilliant tools, and consider uninstalling any unhelpful software your brain is running. Writing is a hell of a lot easier without sub-conscious self-sabotage.

Find out more about EFT and PSTEC or on Ros Barber’s website Write the Damn Book!

Ros Barber About the author: Ros Barber is the author of The Marlowe Papers (Sceptre, 2012) and Devotion (Oneworld, 2015) and a lecturer in creative and life writing at Goldsmith University, London. She blogs about writing and conscious creation on her site: http://rosbarber.com