“Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”
Is writer’s block solely limited to fiction? As a non-fiction writer I’ve never had the problem. With non-fiction there is always material to research. If you are writing about Beowulf, for example, there is always something to look up, no matter how scanty. If you don’t feel like writing you can read for a while.
With fiction, however, you are developing characters and situations from scratch, from whole cloth. I can understand why that would bog somebody down, and it is perhaps the reason I am not drawn to fiction. I’ve done a few short poems and that’s been it. I cannot imagine the effort needed to bring forth an army of people and problems to populate a work. Perhaps that’s the real reason for writer’s block: writing from scratch is hard.
Another condition I read about is an inability or lack of desire to write. This I truly do not understand. You should want to write as much as a bird wants to sing, you should effortlessly fall down into a thousand subjects, as eager to compose as any piano player wants to get to the keyboard. Or, is that desire only after years of practice? I understand not rushing to play at the beginning, after trying to learn the violin for a time. Perhaps, just perhaps, if I got past practice lessons and toward mastery, I would have felt different. I haven’t mastered writing, but the boring lessons are over.
No, with nonfiction I’ve always had something to write about, the world presents itself as a giant tableau of possibilities. Traffic signals, the way cork is harvested for bulletin boards, the design of a backpack, all of life is something to write about. It’s just finding someone to pay you for your interest that is the difficulty. Unless, of course, you are writing for yourself in which case you are truly free. (Along with your poverty.)
With a really large subject I have been stymied. The whole of a giant project is enough to be overwhelming, if something is so complex that it becomes overbearing. A project too large or overarching. Fifty thousand words on World War II. For that, I would recommend outlining, an odious chore that indeed works, breaking down the large into the small. Once completed, your outline provides a step-by-step approach to your subject, allowing you to take gentle walks toward discovery, instead of an uphill thousand mile march.
What then, should be done about writer’s block in fiction? Is it possible to do period research or something similar to at least start writing? If your writing is placed in a specific city, can you do fact-finding about that town? Can you investigate characters similar to the ones you are working on? I don’t know. But if you have battled writer’s block, I’d love to hear about your experience with it.