Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Writer’s block, dear, and a bad bout too. Well when I say ‘writer’s block’ it’s more a case of essayist’s encumbrance or scholar’s stoppage, because it’s not writing per se that’s the problem but writing this final bloody assignment for my OU course. When people write about writer’s block (an oxymoron, surely, Shirley?) they tend to write about staring at a blank page and not knowing where to start or not having an ideas to start with, and neither of those things – as evidenced by this very writing wot you are reading at this very moment (or possibly thinking about, having read earlier, which is ever so flattering, thank you very much, but probably not the case in any case) – are precisely the problem. To be honest, I’d never let a silly little thing like not having any ideas stop me from writing anyway; I’d just tap out a load of old waffle like this and bung it up as a ‘blog’ or something. Yerse…



So it’s not that kind of writer’s block I’m talking about. It’s the other kind – where I’ve got a specific ‘thing’ to write and have been given specific instructions on how to write it and tons of background material to consult while writing and heaps of quotable quotes by people who seem to know what they’re talking about to quote from and I still can’t get the bloody thing written. Insane, isn’t it? To paraphrase Buzz Lightyear; “That’s not writing, it’s summarising with style.” And I tend to agree with him (well not ‘him’, but the paraphrased ‘him’. And I’m not ‘Woody’ either, though I have on occasion had to struggle with a snake in my boot ;)), which may be part of the problem. So it’s not ‘writer’s block’ or ‘essayists encumbrance’ or ‘scholar’s stoppage’ or any other nicely alliterative allusion to some sort of mental or physical barrier – it is good, old fashioned FEAR, plain and simple. I am a coward. Probably a custardy one, with pockets full of mustard to boot, if the old playground chant offers anything to go by (I’ve just looked; it doesn’t. No mustard, just some lint, two elastic bands and a dead mouse the cat brought in which I’m going to scare Julie Harris with later).

No, the real reason I can’t write my final assignment for the OU is because it actually matters: it will determine not only my final mark on the module I’m currently studying, but the overall result of my Degree. And that’s too much. I almost typed ‘too much too soon’, then realised it’s not too soon at all and I’m suffering OU burn out after four years and want to take at least a year’s sabbatical before jumping back into the mucky pool of academia to do my masters, but that said, in specific terms applied to the submission date looming large next week it is too soon, and with the implications of a duff score hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles too much too. Erm… So yes, too much too soon after all, but with a specific ‘too soon’ rather than a more general one (See what I mean about waffle?)

Anyhoo. The upshot of all that is that my essayist’s encumbrance is actually really nothing more than fear. Just fear. That thing we’re supposed to have nothing to fear but itself; which is a nice, neat sound bite, but no fucking help whatsoever. Anyone who has suffered this fear will know what I’m talking about, and will know just how difficult it is to circumnavigate. It would be tempting to think of it as a sort of inverted panic attack, because to do so would imply some sort of end in sight, perhaps in the form of a short spell of unconsciousness or a simple paper bag, but it’s not like that at all, because after 4 days of struggling there’s still no end in sight and only the inkling of a half decent, heavily and repeatedly edited, beginning. The other difference between this kind of panic and a panic attack is that a panic attack feels like your heart is going to stop while scholar’s stoppage feels like your brain is going to explode.

It’s kind of like having all of the symptoms of falling in love (can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t concentrate…) but without the payoff of an eventual rub-out or even a bit of a snog. It’s more like unrequited love – agonising, pointless and soul-destroying – but even then there is, in the beginning at least, a measure of anticipation and hope because the object of your desires is at least accessible to you (assuming, of, course, you’re not a nutter in love with some film star you can never hope to meet or the subject of some sort of restraining order), whereas when it comes to unwritten essays all hope is lost because, by definition, the object of your desires remains eternally elusive.

So it’s not like regular writer’s block and it’s not like a panic attack and it’s not like falling in love, requited or otherwise. It’s more like, to borrow a phrase from Richard Adams (who sadly is not a source I can use for quotes etc in my essay, which would at least be a start), ‘Going Tharn’. Yep, that pretty much nails it. I feel like a rabbit, frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car and completely powerless to do anything to avoid the crushing wheels. If I’m really lucky the tyres might rush by on either side of me, leaving me blinking and dazed but unscathed in the road as the driver, oblivious, rushes on. If I’m really really lucky, the driver might see me, pull up, dig into the carrier bag sitting on the passenger seat next to her and pull out a carrot she’s just bought in Tesco’s Metro and throw it to me before cautiously driving round me and carrying on her way. Or, knowing my luck, it may not be a car at all but a steamroller; the first in a procession of steamrollers making their way to a steam and traction engine rally a few miles further down the road. Ho hum…

You may be thinking that in writing this blog I’ve found another very effective way of avoiding looking at my final assignment. You would be right in one respect, but in my defence I would say that I’m also hoping the exercise proves to be some sort of literary laxative; that in opening my ‘mind-bowel’ and having a good metaphorical word dump here I have also opened the floodgates for the good stuff. You, dear reader (assuming at least one), can look upon yourself as the vital roughage in that process; as the bowl of Branflakes or spoonful of Special K that helped me turn the corner and navigate the s-bend. Thank you – you are the prunes in my porridge and the liquorice in my whip. You are the senna of my semicolon, and I salute you. 🙂


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