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Amanda Hall Writers Block: Is the Problem Emotional, Anatomical, or Both? Scholars have often attempted to explain the phenomenon of writers block (Balajthy, E, Hart, J, Huston, P, Johnstone, A, Kaufman, C, Kleidermacher, K, Peterson, K, Flaherty, A, Lord, A, Rose, M,); however, one definitive cause of writers block remains elusive. While widely considered to be an emotional response and closely linked to the limbic system within the brain, some evidence exists that writers block may be closely associated with brain chemistry within the temporal lobe of the brain, which is intricately involved in the perceptual processes of hearing, speech, and vision. A more thorough investigation of the research on writers block indicates that both the limbic system and the temporal lobe of the brain may play a part in writers block, with one affecting the other. Finally, studies on contributions from the right and left brain to the writing experience are examined. Only a complete study of this research can provide a better determination of the true root of writers block, and perhaps lead to more effective strategies to free aspiring writers from this perplexing problem. Writers block has been exhaustively linked to the limbic system (Huston, P, Johnstone, A, Kleidermacher, K, Peterson, K, Flaherty, A, Rose, M, Stewart, R), or the emotional part of the brain, illustrated best by the infamous fear of the blank page. Cindy Lawson, PhD, from the Center of Development of Learning states that, The limbic system interprets and directs emotion and behavior (pg). She argues that the power of the limbic system on productive learning is immense, explaining that, If the limbic system interprets the information as positive, it dispatches a message of purpose and excitement and directs our behavior toward a goal. When this happens, we become motivated to act: thinking and

learning are enhanced. This may explain why a person can write easily on one project and be completely stymied on the next. She continues that, When the interpretation is negative, the switch is turned off and thinking and learning are stifled, a frighteningly close description of the nightmare known as writers block. Importantly, Lawson asserts that thoughts and emotions strongly affect motivation or the drive or desire that compels action. Indeed without motivation, the prospect of tackling a writing assignment is bleak at best. Many researchers studying this subject agree that writers block is largely an emotional issue (Hart, Huston, Johnstone, Kleidermacher). Writer and Doctor Patricia Huston states, Writer's block is generally considered to be a stress reaction that paralyzes the ability to put thoughts into words. Anne Johnstone asserts in her article, The Writers Hell: Approaches to Writers Block, that writers block stems from the pressure of having to be perfect. She argues that perfectionism can plague any writers conscience and make the creative world a frustrating place. In his 2006 book, A Writers Coach: An Editors Guide to Words that Work, Jack Hart describes how he perceives writers block to begin: When you first sit down a wave of paralyzing confusion washes over a person which slowly begins to make the mind freeze, blocking any sort of creative idea (pg). Kathy Kleidermacher argues in her book, The Pocket Idiots Guide to Beating Writers Block, that writers block can come from lack of confidence, motivation, or energy, as well as procrastination, depression, and anxiety. In other words, writers block is hopelessly interconnected and intertwined with the emotional brain. While the assumption that writers block is a stress reaction offers hope that there is a possible cure, this explanation may not necessarily be complete and can lead to ineffective attempts to overcome it.

As much as is written to describe writers block as a consequence of emotional reactions, some researchers believe that writers block may stem from a variety of mental states caused by distinct brain chemistry. Specifically, studies of the temporal lobe, a portion of the brain responsible for sensory perception including hearing, speech and vision, provide some evidence that writers block is a consequence of brain chemistry/physiology. In fact, study of the temporal lobe finds this structure of the brain responsible not only for writers block, but for hypergraphia, the ability of some people to write prolifically and effortlessly. Hypergraphia is specifically defined as, the tendency toward extensive and, in some cases, compulsive writing. An answer to the question of why some people struggle to write anything and others seem naturally consumed with a passion to write may lead to a solution for writers block. In a 1982 study by Roberts, Robertson and Trimble entitled, The Lateralising Significance of Hypergraphia in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, the temporal lobe is specifically identified as the part of the brain most predictively associated with hypergraphia, and often occurs more frequently in patients with right-sided non-dominant temporal lobe epilepsy. Temporal lobe epilepsy is characterized by seizures that cause a mixture of different feelings, emotions, thoughts, and experiences, which may be familiar or completely foreign, and may include hallucinations of voices, music, people, smells, or tastes. In their 1981 study, Frequency of Hypergraphia in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: an Index of Interictal Behaviour Syndrome, Sachdev and Waxman found that patients with temporal lobe epilepsy tended to reply more frequently to a standard questionnaire, and wrote more extensively as compared to others. In this study, the incidence of temporal lobe epilepsy was 73% in patients exhibiting hypergraphia compared to 17% in patients without this trait. While true hypergraphia can certainly not be ascribed to every successful writer,

those for whom the blank page presents a challenge as opposed to a death sentence may have temporal lobe function that differs from those who suffer from writers block. The possibility also exists that the temporal lobe and limbic system of the brain act together to create the phenomenon of writers block or its opposite, hypergraphia. Sachdev and Waxman conclude their study by finding that hypergraphia is a behavioral response to temporal lobe activity. In a 1993 study by Okamura, Fukai, Hidari, et al., the authors agree with Sachdev and Waxman and conclude that hypergraphia reflects changes in emotional responsiveness secondary to effects within the temporal lobe. Similarly, Alice Falherty discusses brain states in The Midnights Disease: The Drive to Write; Writers Block and the Creative Brain . Flaherty proposes the possibility that, Some types of writers block fit a biological model, which is influenced by brain anatomy, biochemistry, and genetics, but is exquisitely shaped by experience. She goes on to say that while writers block is linked to brain states, it can also stem from the fear of failure or from insulating ourselves so well from the desire to succeed that we weaken our motivation to write. Whether the right brain, associated with creativity and intuitiveness, or the left brain, associated with logical, analytical thinking, affects writers block is another area of study. Patricia Huston argues that writers block stems from the disagreement between the right and left side of the brain. Specifically, she states that the right side of the brain is abundant in creativity and always eager when its time to put pen to paper, while the less enthusiastic left side is too concerned with anticipating all the obstacles that come with writing papers. Huston concludes that when all of these factors coincide, disaster is soon

to follow. She asserts that writers block slowly sets in, engulfing a persons creativity and strangling all of its potential. Is it possible, however, that it is the analytical left side of the brain that is best able to decipher and organize each part of a successful literary work making writers block less of a threat? What if it is the creative, right brain that is overwhelming the process? Carolyn Kaufman is the author of The Right-Brian/Left-Brain Myth and Flow, in which she states, Most people don't realize that if you really got all the way out of your left brain, you wouldn't be able to write. She explains that it is the left brain that produces language, while in many people the right brain is completely nonverbal. Ernest Balajthy also implies the importance of the left brain in effective writing in his article entitled, Do Writers Really Revise? Encouraging Unnatural Acts in Your Classroom. Balajthy states that students developing writing ability need to focus on one aspect at a time in order to avoid cognitive overload and subsequent writers block and apprehension. Ann Tyler Lord, however, disagrees. In The Writers Life: Right Brain Rules! Lord blames the educational system, media and culture for teaching children to use their left brain abilities to do most everything in daily life, which she claims is largely responsible for writers block. In fact, Lord claims that Most writers have to retrain their right brain to come out and play. In Left Brain Right Brain, Simon Whaley agrees and states that while both sides of the brain are actively involved in productive writing, right-brain dominance positively affects idea formation and creativity. Effective strategies to overcome writers block exist despite the different explanations proposed to describe the problem. Whether the cause is emotional, anatomical, or both, or a matter of right brain-left brain conflict, helpful suggestions exist to provide some

direction for a struggling writer facing that blank page. Perhaps the best advice is provided by Patricia Huston who offers concrete instructions that seem to address writers block from every angle. She describes writers block as a problem to which no one is immune and leads to never ending frustration. Huston urges the writer to cultivate patience, analyze tasks, schedule breaks, and assess writing conditions. Cultivating patience can be related to a sculptor, Huston says, because sculptors can look at a slab of stone and see the creation that lies underneath, which suggests the importance of right-brain dominance. She goes on to say, however, that sculptors dont create masterpieces all in one try but have to navigate through various steps in a specific order to successfully complete a work, which points to left brain activity. She claims that the same principle applies to writing: that daunting white page or blank computer loves to play tricks on the mind, but if a writer completes the paper in calculated steps and adds the detailed finishing touches at the end, the room for error slowly dissipates. She further defers to the importance of the left brain when she identifies the effective analysis of tasks as one of the most important steps in conquering writers block. Huston suggests setting up writing schedules, and warns writers never to subject themselves to designating a long uninterrupted block of time to complete a paper in one day, because she believes that the writer is bound to overload the brain and become conflicted with too many different ideas. Because she appreciates the emotional component of writers block, she encourages writers to schedule breaks and not get hung up on a certain portion of the work, such as the introduction, but to make a note to rework or add details and move on. Huston asserts that moving to a section that is more appealing can help a writer gain momentum and ideas so the harder sections are easier to complete. Lastly, because the writer is affected by sensory perceptions including sight, hearing and

sound, Huston recommends carefully choosing the conditions in which he or she is working; a person who is easily distracted should select some place quiet and out of the way of others to create. Other solutions have been offered which seem to address the problem of writers block from a brain chemistry/emotional/behavorial standpoint. In his 1994 article entitled, Individuation in Creative Writing, Richard Stewart studied the relationship between meditation and meditative journal writing and writers block and found that both helped to stimulate production of affective imagery, which in turn influenced the ability to write with greater flow, richness, and feeling. In addition, subjects experienced growth in creative expression, enhanced self-esteem, elimination of writer's block, and other personal benefits. Why some people face writing a paper like a trip to the guillotine and others are organizing and writing in their heads before pencil ever reaches paper continues to fascinate researchers. But if every possible cause for writers block is truly mental it is no wonder that the experience is different for everyone. Whether the struggling writer is having a bad day, is overwhelmed with sensory stimuli, is unmotivated or just plain disorganized, writers block can be the result. Thankfully, there are solutions offered by researchers that specifically address all of these issues. For those blessed with a temporal lobe that supports hypergraphia, no solutions are needed.

Work Citied Balajthy, Ernest. Do Writers Really Revise? Encouraging Unnatural Acts in Your Classroom. N.p.: n.p., 1986. N. pag. Web. 9 Mar. 2012. Hart, Jack. A Writers Coach: an editiors guide to words that work. New York: Pantheon Book, 2006. N.pag. Print. Huston, Patricia. Resolving Writers Block: Vol.44. N.P. Canadian Family Physicians, 1998 N.pag. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. Johnstone, Anne. The Writers Hell: Approaches to Writers Block. N.p. Journal of Teaching Writing, 2010. N.pag. Web 27 Feb. 2012. Kaufman, Carolyn. The Right-Brain/Left-Brain Myth and Flow. N.p.: n.p., 2007. Web. 9 Mar. 2012. Kleidermacher, Kathy. The Pocket Idiots Guide to Beating Writers Block: New York. The Penguin Group, 2007. N.pag. Print. Peterson, Karen E. Write. 10 Days to Overcome Writers Block. Period. Avon Ma: Adams Media and F+W Publications Company. 2006 Print. Flaherty, Alice W. The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, and The Creative Brian. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. N.Pag. Print. Lawson, Cindy. "The Connections between Emotions and Learning ." Center fir Development of Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2012. Lord, Anne T. The Writer's Life: Right Brian Rules! N.p.: n.p., 2009. Web. 9 Mar. 2012. Rose, Mike. Writer's Block: The Cognitive dimension. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009. N. pag. Studies in Writing & Rhetoric (SWR) series. Web. 9 Mar. 2012. Stewart, Richard. Individual In Creative Writing. N.p.: n.p., 1994. N. pag. Web. 9 Mar. 2012. Whaley, Simon. Left Brain Right Brain. N.p.: The Theme Foundry, 2012. N. pag. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.