I tend to think that metaphors are God’s gift to languages everywhere. They not only enrich communication, but might facilitate our understandings of complex, abstract concepts too. But if they can help us think more clearly about some things, it seems to follow that they can hinder clear thinking as well. That is, if you’re using an unproductive metaphor, you might think about something in an unhelpful way or communicate a meaning that you don’t intend to communicate.
I’ve recently been thinking about the metaphor of writer’s block thanks to this NeuWrite post on the topic. A quick Google search assured me that there’s lots of advice for overcoming writer’s block. That phrase in itself – overcoming writer’s block – conjures up an image of a big obstacle that writers must surmount.
One alternative to overcoming that block that I came across, however, was to never think of the struggle as a block in the first place. In a synopsis of her book 7 Secrets of the Prolific, Hillary Rettig denounces the idea of a writer’s block because “how the heck are you going to get around that? At best, you might scale it like a mountain climber, or chisel away at its edges.”
More productive, Rettig argues, is to think of the difficulty as a giant spaghetti snarl, containing dozens of strands that represent different obstacles or triggers. A spaghetti snarl sounds pretty intimidating to me, but she claims that it can be untangled much more easily than the notorious monolith of writer’s block can be scaled or chiseled. Another advantage to the snarl is that as you start untangling it, the job gets easier, while chipping away at a monolith might be just as difficult as you’re nearing the end as it was in the beginning.
The overall theme of Rettig’s advice for resolving the snarl is not much different than generic advice for overcoming writer’s block (things like, just put words on paper). But maybe there really is something to her reframing of this common metaphor. I would never wish a writer’s block on myself, but next time I do experience one, I know the first strategy I’ll try – out with the block, in with the spaghetti.