Sometimes when I contemplate facing a writing task I feel an agonizing resistance in my guts, without really understanding why. The most striking experience of this sort occurs when I am doing taxes or writing checks to pay bills. My stomach gets tense and a visceral sense of dread envelopes me. My body reactions are not wholly explainable by the facts of the situation, because I’m plenty capable of doing the taxes and I have enough money to pay the bills.
Humans are biologically wired with automatic, reptilian brain responses that help us avoid danger and recover from stress. These primitive physical reactions occur with great rapidity and powerful force, and they may interfere with your writing plans. For instance, if your body’s survival alarms are triggered by sitting down in front of your computer, you may find it hard to stay there. The lizard brain will take over, stand you back up and direct you to a safer place, like the kitchen, where you can soothe your neurons with pudding.
In his first inaugural address, FDR said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Now I don’t know if FDR struggled with writing blocks, but he has a point about fear, especially as it relates to apparently safe activities like writing.
When you sit down to write, the fear is usually not about physical death, but about ego injuries like failure, criticism or public humiliation. The body, however, responds as if these are life-threatening crises, and powerful neurological impulses are activated in your archaic lizard brain that thwart your writing aspirations by compelling you to flee to the refrigerator, or television, for safety.
FDR stated later in his inaugural address: “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.” And even though he was talking about unemployed workers during the 1929 depression, the same words hold for non-writing writers during the 2012 depression who need to face their scared lizard brains wisely and courageously, and get back to work.