How Real Is Writer’s Block and What to Do When You Find Yourself in Its Depressing Grip? by Branka Čubrilo

How Real Is Writer’s Block and What to Do When You Find Yourself in Its Depressing Grip?


Branka Čubrilo

It is hard to believe that any prolific and gifted writer could ever suffer from writer’s block, as if we are always open to ever-pouring ideas and an endless flow of perfectly coined sentences.

Is it possible for, as I said, a prolific writer to struggle with commencing a new story or novel, to develop a plot, to find characters willing to lead and open themselves to structure something fresh and new?

What causes this mental pain of being unable to start and finish a story in your usual way, manner and style of writing? What would be the answer to this neurotic inhibition of creativity and productivity and what could be done to end it in a reasonable amount of time?

If we explore the lack of external motivation, I would not agree that it could cause the problem, for it is not a matter of the external but rather some internal obstacle. As for external motivation, we are always exposed to events, which a creative mind can respond to and ponder upon endlessly. That said, I believe that writers do not drain themselves entirely as life offers a plethora of characters, challenges, and events. Writers read all the time, explore films and frequent the theater to nourish their minds and stimulate their ideas.

Could it be plain laziness? Getting up in the morning, feeling like doing nothing and staying in your bathrobe for the rest of the day, unmotivated. I wouldn’t agree, either.

Does the creative block stem from a blocked psyche? If it does, what does it mean – a blocked psyche? Just a vague term; a non-valid excuse?

Writing a novel is hard labor and solitary work. A novelist sits for days, months or even years alone with their equipment and their mind. Novelists are solitary creatures and often live alone, for being a prolific novelist one has no time for other involvement. Living such a kind of life for an extended period one develops a so-called aversion to solitude, as prolonged isolation brings about depression and anxiety.

Is it, then, unhappiness that can bring about writer’s block? Yes, unhappiness could be caused by a lack of direct and constructive feedback while writing a novel. Self-doubt arises, and the feeling of helplessness comes crawling in those lonely hours where the reality and validity of the story have no mirror. In such circumstances, if prolonged, and if the writer claims they suffer from writer’s block they are prone to fall into the trap of negative and nonconstructive pictures in their minds, causing vivid dreams to disappear or to be clouded.

Upon finishing three novels and a collection of short stories, I told myself I was ‘exhausted,’ not knowing what I was exhausted from, for I love writing and this is so far the most fulfilling work for me. Even though it takes its toll, I don’t see it as challenging and demanding because it brings me joy, and it is known that joy is the most nourishing and inspiring sentiment. But still, I was exhausted. Or did I just cast a subjective judgment upon myself?

Another enemy of a writer is striving for perfection. Can one be exhausted by seeking perfection itself? The answer is, of course. It can be so demanding and exhausting for the writer that it can diminish creativity and cause depression.

So, what would be the answer to the posed questions?

Well, what I figured out lately, and it wasn’t really a revelation, for I knew it before but didn’t afford the pleasure of admitting it to myself is: keep on writing without attempting to write a masterpiece!  


When writers find themselves in the unpleasant grip of writer’s block, the best thing is to keep on writing without aiming for perfection. Just keep on writing – a journal, or a short piece of something that grabbed your attention at that moment, maybe a short story, or something that you wanted to write about but thought it to be ‘unimportant’ to others, or yourself, at that particular time.

Keep on writing. Make errors. Mess up the story, but keep on writing for such moments will give you the freedom to imagine and explore, and very soon you’ll discover again the joy of writing stories that are unrelated to a major writing project. And when joy is reinstated, you can get back to writing that major project with equal zest as before you were caught in the grip of that so-called writer’s block.  

Very helpful! This gives us a glimpse into the mind of a writer, as well what measures we can take whenever we're caught in the paralysis of writer's block. So, thank you, Branka! :)

Readers, let's take a look at one of Branka Čubrilo's books, a literary fiction collection, which also has a touch of romance, inspirational tales and mystery, titled The Lonely Poet and Other Stories.


Here is the blurb.


"Otto Visconti creates a theatre of the absurd in which he is the main character and the anti-hero, the victor and the victim, the celebrity and an irrelevant, obscure and insecure poet misplaced in an isolated and cold world created by his insecurities, obsessions and illusions, governed by the strange inner forces throwing him mercilessly into absurd situations and even more bizarre conclusions and outcomes. He is the main protagonist and the narrator of his misfortunes in the first part of the collection. The second part of the collection offers stories collected from Sydney to New York featuring odd characters in their constant search for meaning, for satisfaction, fulfillment or adventure. They chose unusual avenues in their pursuit of personal happiness; the avenues that often lead them astray."


Branka is also giving us a peek at her book today!


-from “Simona”

We were sitting at the table having breakfast. Father said:
“I have something to tell you ... Simona’s pregnant ...”
Upon delivering this sentence his face had become as red as if he had said something very shameful.The very same redness spilt over mother’s face; her neck, even her hands became red and sweaty and her fingers started to tremble heavily, which caused the tinkling of the spoon in the sugar bowl, and mother muttered a red-hot sentence from her flaming throat with a voice tinkling with excitement (everything, everything tinkled during that particular morning):
“You don’t have to say a word, I know it all. You can go, but you have to know one thing—you are not going to take a single thing with you. Go!” Red and trembling she stood up and ran towards the bedroom where her tears had caught up with her after she had tried to keep them on the edge of her eyelashes while she was still at the table. When she slammed the bedroom door, silence was hanging over the table; the tinkling of the cups, the saucers and her own fingers had stopped, the tinkling of her voice had stopped, too, the only thing that could be heard was my father clearing his throat while looking at the cup of now absolutely cold coffee.
Simona. We knew Simona well. Why did mother get so upset? Why did her fingers tinkle in chorus with fine china while the redness spilt all over her face? Why did father’s face get so red that he resembled a little embarrassed boy who had just told a shameful lie to his parents?
We know Simona well; she is my father’s secretary. And what a secretary she’s been; father always used to say that God, himself, had sent Simona to his office, he used to say that he would lose his head without Simona ... I can’t see why mother got so agitated ... so what if she is pregnant, she is not irreplaceable.
I said to my father:
“Are you afraid that now she is going to leave because she is pregnant? Does it worry you to look for another secretary?”
He did not look into my eyes but rather somewhere around my chest, and with a still dull, quiet voice said:
“Otto, are you really that stupid or are you just pretending to be that way?”
I did not understand what he was asking. He stood up and walked out without a coat into a cold Milan morning.
We knew Simona. She came into his office some five years ago, that’s exactly how much older she was than I - five years. She was eighteen when she started to work for him. When I had laid my eyes on her, I thought, “This is exactly how my future wife is going to look.”
Oh merciful Lord, she had the most beautiful smile, I had never seen a smile like hers. It adorned her face so beautifully that I was not able to notice anything else: the coulour or the shape of her eyes, the shape of her nose or chin ... bah, what shape? No other shape was there to distinguish, nothing, there was only Simona’s smile on that face. Simona’s smile was always there like the sun in a cloudless sky.
Whenever I came to father’s office Simona would treat me with chocolates, which she kept in the first drawer on the left hand side of her desk. I would always take one, but Simona would not take any, for she would say she had already had one in the morning, which was exactly what she would allow herself to have (I marvelled at her discipline!)
My first cup of coffee ever! Simona had prepared it for me. I came to father’s office carrying some papers which mother had sent on father’s request. He was not there; Simona said:
“Sit down, Otto. Have a cup of coffee with me.”
There I had enjoyed my first coffee, the sweetest, and I had never ever experienced that sweetness again but I had promised myself once again that the woman I was going to love would carry on her face the ever-present Simona’s smile (was it good or bad luck, the devil knows; later I met Her with that smile which overshadowed even Simona’s seemingly perfect smile).
Whenever I would meet Simona my hands would tremble just as my mother’s hands had trembled today. I never knew the real reason for the trembling of my hands ... was it because of her smile or was it because of her pitch-black hair, combed and sleek looking as if it was made of tar ... or was it because of the fireflies in her eyes which flew towards you as she talked to you or they flew towards the window to reach the wide sky? ... Live fireflies in Simona’s eyes.
When father had walked out without a coat (was it really too hot for him, or was he in such a hurry that he had forgotten his coat, who would really know now?) I had entered mother’s room. I found her lying on the bed crying, I sat down on the edge of the bed without a word. After a short time she got up, wiped off her tears and said:
“Don’t just sit there. I want to be left alone. Get out!”
“Mother, why did you get so upset about it? He is going to find another secretary.” She gave me one of her dumbfounded looks and asked:
“How old are you, Otto?”
“Are you really brainless or are you pretending to be?”
“I don’t get you ...”
“Your father is going to leave us.”
“But why? It’s not like he and ...” I left the room without ending my sentence for my mother needed solitude. Only in solitude could she find peace and comfort.
In the dining room, everything was still the same as it was in the moment when we left it. Like some sort of theatre scene ... without protagonists ... it looked as if they had left in search of new roles.
Simona! No, this is not possible! This is what she thinks. That’s why she said to him, “You don’t have to say a word, I know it all.”
This is not possible!
Simona! With her smile, with fireflies in her eyes, with her white teeth and dimples in her cheeks.
My father - the man whose face never showed a smile, whose teeth are brownish from smoking and age, and gum disease has left them rickety regardless of his daily hygienic routine and efforts.
Simona—one head taller than him, slim with a tiny waist and long, long legs and a little bottom like an Easter bun, with elegant hands and slim, long fingers adorned with numerous yellow rings.
My father ... stocky, short. He is already belting his pants underneath his sagging breasts. Short-legged, shortsighted, sullen, unapproachable and a know-it-all.
Simona ... with her pitch-black hair, dark but shiny, she looks like a perfectly crafted doll from some exotic place ... with her big almond- shaped eyes, the eyes of a child where fireflies are shining a light with their little brilliant torches wooing observers to drown in it.
My father ... half-bald but convinced that, yet, nobody can really notice it (nor can Simona), since he is combing his hair across his head, over the bald patch, from left to right avoiding the wind at any cost ...
No, it can’t be true. Can it be true?


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This looks interesting! 

Readers, don't forget to pick up your copy of The Lonely Poet and Other Stories!


Thanks again for shedding some light on the subject of writer's block, Branka! 



Guest Blogger Bio


At the age of eighteen Branka Cubrilo wrote her first novel, I Knew Jane Eyre, which won the Yugoslavian Young Writers Award in 1982. Soon after she wrote a sequel called Looking for Jane Eyre. In 1999 Branka published the book Fiume Corre – Rijeka Tece, a year later Requiem for Barbara, and in 2001 Little Lies – Big Lies (as a part of a trilogy called Spanish Stories for which she obtained a scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to research the cultural and historical settings of Cadiz in Andalusia). The Lonely Poet and Other Stories is Branka’s third book published in English by Speaking Volumes, following her earlier novels The Mosaic of the Broken Soul (2011) and Fiume – The Lost River (2014). Branka’s latest novel, Dethroned, will be published with the same publisher in 2017. Branka has been living in Sydney with her daughter Althea since 1992. Now she predominantly writes in English and translates her earlier works in English. Praise for Branka Cubrilo 5-Star Reviews on  

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1 comment:

  1. I start by creating my characters and my conflict, and getting that first chapter just right. It can take months. Heck, it usually does. But once that's done, the characters tell me what they're going to do, and writing the rest of the book doesn't take much longer than getting that first chapter down. So, maybe there's no time for writer's block, except between books. I retire more than Brett Favre, and I once went ten years between novels.


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