The predicament known as 'writer's block' is a fundamental issue in my new book, The Fate of the Artist. Sometimes we imagine it to be a familiar problem, like athlete's foot, or boredom, with prescribable remedies.
However, the term does not mean that the writer has fallen into a lethargy out of which they must be gently encouraged, or that they have simply run out of ideas. Anyone can do that. What it means is that one part of the brain is withholding the key to the storeroom from the other part of the brain, for any of the commonplace reasons that brains disoblige themselves*.
I originally had a short, one-page chapter in the book in which I laid out some of the psychological theories about writer's block, including some words borrowed from the man who coined the phrase. I even named him. 'A Viennese guy named Bergler' was the way I attempted to casually pass off this important piece of information, as though the affectation of a Humphrey Bogart voice would innoculate me from intellectual pretension.
But my editor felt that there should be a more decisive conclusion to the mock murder plot that I had set up in Fate in which I, the author, have supposedly been 'bumped off.' The book is about my 'disappearance,' from which metafictional conceit you might be justified in supposing that innoculation may in fact be too late. The newly inserted scene, in which the villain is absurdly unmasked, has been successful enough that I notice that some friendly party has submitted my book's title to the Edgar Awards, where it is listed with all the year's other murder mysteries.
So, with the problem advanced from mere artistic failure to a physical termination, a page needed to be removed to allow in the new one, in which the mock murder mystery is effectively resolved. The reader of this is quite aware, I'm sure, that in a picture book, unlike a purely prose work, the number of pages must always be at the forefront of the author's mind. To insert a page late in the editorial process, you must take another one out. You can't just run the whole text at a smaller size, or 'kern' here and there to obtain a couple of extra lines of space, or add a page for that matter; a whole new 'signature' would need to be inserted. And there is nothing that upsets the applecart of the publishing business like inserting a whole new signature.
When something needs to go, it is surprising how quickly a volunteer will step forward from your cunningly and perfectly crafted text. The page containing all my collected and quoted psycho-blather immediately put its hand up. The reason this particular page cried out to be replaced, in spite of the Bogart vocalisations of the interrogator, is due to an infringement for which another editor of mine, the late Lou Stathis (who once edited High Times magazine), once came down on me heavily. This misdemeanor is called 'infodump', a recourse in which you take all the extra research you did, that you hate to see go to waste, and cram it all into an available spot in the proceedings and call it 'backstory,' or at least that's what Lou was accusing me of doing, way back when. He was right, and the criticism stuck with me.
So this page of mine contained a bundle of words purloined, unaltered, from several accomplished writers on psychiatry, all stitched together as though the one person, my fictional psychiatrist, was saying it. Thus I wrote phrases like, "I tend to agree with the current interpretetaion of artistic creativity as genius insanity or the libido sewage notion," that I never could have obtained without the aid of plagiarism. And that can be one solution to writer's block, for at the time I had no idea of my own. In fact, I don't think one arrived until ten minutes ago when I wrote the sentence above with the asterisk*.
Books mentioned in this post
Eddie Campbell is the author of The Fate of the Artist