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Writer's Block - When the Usual Vocabulary Needs a Holiday
As a newcomer, Hub Pages still feels like foreign territory to me. I signed up because I thought it might inspire me to get back into the kind of writing I used to do all of the time and loved so much. But this was years ago and a few things have changed since then.
One of the things that changed is that I have now completed a master’s degree. This required loads of writing. But, some of the professors at the university said, in so many words, that if the writing was not impersonal, sterile and a bit stilted, it wasn’t truly academic. These weren’t the exact words they used but the sentiment was inarguably present. My degree was not in English or anything particularly creative, so I suppose they had a point. Or did they?
These particular professors did not think that “conversational style” was the right approach for writing academic papers even though some of the best and well known academicians were wonderful writers who have been immortalised through their discoveries and conversational style writing. By conversational, I mean clear, accessible and enjoyable reading. (Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan come to mind as two examples.)
That rigid, academic style of writing certainly has its place. However, if one is not careful, it is easy to get locked into a certain way of thinking about writing which may put a damper on any passion and create a sort of barrier to the creative juices flowing. You are constantly thinking, “is this word, sentence, paragraph impersonal observer and ‘third person’ enough or is there too much of me in it?” Almost always, there was a bit too much of me, meaning my personality, in it. I like to write in a way the conveys that I find the topic interesting, even if the reader might not.
Now, I am happy to have done the master’s degree as it was a completion of a long time ambition. But, I realised afterwards that perhaps there was something in that part of the process that went against my grain. To have to think in such a detached manner - especially for those of us who enjoy writing - sucks the soul into oblivion. We are involved. Sure, there is a place for the impersonal, but not in our writing or how we process information. We have to be personal in order for the connection to the world and our writing to have meaning.
And it got me thinking about what scientists and Dr Seuss have in common and what a lucky bunch they are. When scientists come across things for which there are no words, they get to make them up. When Stephen Jay Gould identified a phenomenon for the first time, he got to name it Punctuated Equilibrium. Even when there were words for what Dr Seuss wrote about, he still transformed them into something new that no one had ever heard of. For example, a thneed, which “everyone, everyone, everyone needs! “ And, nobody called these two writers in on the red carpet and told them off for colouring outside of the lines or bringing too much of their personality into the writing. That they did bring their personality and their take on the world was what has made them who they are.
I think there is a lesson here. Perhaps these internalised expectations (no matter where they come from) are at least some of the bricks that writers’ blocks are composed of. And, a key to breaking the blocks and cajoling creativity out of the box is to give your normal vocabulary a holiday. Experiment with new words and write about things that you do not normally write about. And, if you don’t know the word or words for what you want to say, just make them up. Of course, it may be a bit daring to publish writing with words you have made up. There again, it might just be the most supercalifragilisticexpialidocious thing you have ever done. And, no one suffered from that word being invented either.