Unlike traditional writer’s block—well known for its symptoms of hollow eyes, a preference for loose black clothing, and a propensity to alphabetize one’s spice drawer at midnight—many lesser-known forms of writer’s block exist and can unexpectedly wreak havoc in seemingly unblocked, well adjusted writers.
One of the most deleterious forms of blockage is Praise-itis, or the inability to write without an external source of validation. Frequently mis-diagnosed as the fruit of good parenting, Praise-itis can seemingly come out of nowhere and induce partial writing paralysis or, worse, zombify the writer to such an extent that he or she is capable only of spouting clichés or tired tracts of recycled narcissism.
At its worst, severe Praise-itis can lead to the stoppage of writing altogether with such ersatz activities as marrying, baby making, house buying, navel gazing, remodeling one’s husband, reinventing oneself, cheating with a better-looking sexual partner, attending writing workshops, and “listening to the direction the universe is trying to take you” (1).
Writers, theorists, and scientists have collaborated to classify three distinct strains of this pernicious disease:
- Dewordicus: a particularly nasty scenario in which a formerly commended writer becomes a brutally neglected or excoriated writer seemingly over night. For example, meet Greil the brilliant child prodigy whose early musings on the culinary applications of the tufera vulgaris thrilled his gastronomically-inclined parents but whose later work shattered Michiko Kakutani’s hopes for the future of the novel.
- Overticus Rewardicus: a situation where the magnitude of the reward is inversely proportional to the talent of the writer and forces the writer to question whether or not she is worth it. For example, consider the case of a young, burgeoning writer, Amanda, who pens a saccharine, aren’t-we-blonde-and-lucky graduation speech in Provo, receives a $5000 savings bond from her grandparents, and never writes again.
- Blackholeism: a somewhat rarer variant where a writer of talent produces something interesting that utterly baffles the audience—usually terrified parents or underpaid, Mormon schoolteachers who barely passed English 101. For example, Julie, an extremely precocious and talented writer of twelve, invokes a Joycean muse, parodies her teacher’s Greek gluteous maximus in Petrarchan sonnet form, and the audience remains silent.
Regardless of the form it takes, Praise-itis is an insidious disease that re-wires the writer’s brain to believe, completely erroneously, that the real measure of the writing is the feeling engendered by the praise (or the lack thereof) that someone else renders upon it—i.e. not the actual pleasure that the writer experiences during the writing process itself (2).
Most scientists now believe that writers become susceptible to this faulty mis-wiring when they try to work on projects that they dislike, that are antithetical to their own personalities, or that are pursued in response to someone else’s agenda—most often familial in provenance.
To date, the only cure for Praise-itis is a drug called, Workis Pleasurablis. Workis Pleasurablis works by re-directing the writer toward a project he or she finds intrinsically pleasing and away from the aggravating project.
After many years of double-blind studies in writing programs and graduate English departments around the country, researchers have discovered that the disease seems to go into remission when writers naturally enjoy the projects they are working on and do not attempt to seek greater and greater levels of titillation in external, artificial sources.
And, while the writer is always vulnerable to a flare-up of the disease whenever shit gets to the fan-hitting stage—say, a problematic graduate thesis or a certain obnoxious and puerile client picked up while freelancing—she can, with enough therapy, begin to self-diagnose at a much earlier stage in the process and choose to work only on projects she wants to do.
(1) Personally, I find “listening” to the universe acceptable provided it is telling you to do something interesting like “diddle the hot fuzzy logic philosophy professor from New Zealand” or “sell off all your shit so that you can move to Japan and teach English for $5.00/week.” Otherwise, it should be ignored because, as far as I can tell, most of the significant communiqués from the great, big oneness that my writer friends have had usually sound a whole lot more like their mothers telling them to go to a bar mitzvah with their married male friend in Cincinnati rather than sounding like an earth-shaking fiat from Atman or Manjushri.
(2) To my mind, this is somewhat akin to the false belief that talking about sex is just as much fun as having it. And, unless you are sharing the sheets with one or two of my exes, this will never be a true condition. This is not to suggest that talking about sex can’t be fun. It certainly can be or, in my case, certainly was fun until a certain talker, who shall remain nameless but who can easily be identified by his idiosyncratically small penis, was caught embezzling money from the company we both contracted for and then had to flee the State of Utah before the authorities were called in. Then, it became problematic.
(3) This appears to be a valid methodology for bad marriages, low libido, and sexual dysfunction as well.