Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Forgetting

October 27th, 2010 · 5 Comments

I’ve been dealing with some mega writer’s block these past few days, which has got me wondering whether it’s possible for someone to spontaneously lose their most well-developed skills. That’s obviously true in the athletic realm, where the dreaded Steve Blass Disease has ended more than a few baseball careers. The problem with such vexed athletes is fairly obvious, and best summarized by a quote from Bull Durham: “Don’t think, Meat. Just throw.” An egghead description is here:

Motor learning may initially rely on more explicit and prefrontal areas, but after extended practice and expertise, shift to more dorsal areas, but thinking about the movement can shift activity back to the less skilled explicit areas. Although many explanations may be derived, one could argue that these athletes show that even when years of practice has given the implicit system an exquisitely fine tuned memory for a movement, the explicit system can interfere at the time of performance and erase all evidence of implicit memory.

But how does this apply to more intellectual pursuits, in which motor skills are subordinate to less tangible assets such as creativity, tonal sense, and the comprehension of logic? Is the key to overcoming mental blocks the ability to extinguish conscious thought about process? That doesn’t seem right, as creating something worthwhile—whether a piece of prose, a musical composition, or a really solid PowerPoint presentation—would seem to require lots and lots revision, and thus a degree of self-awareness that athletes (who only get one crack at each action) don’t really need. But I do understand how “overthinking” can interfere with intellectual output—it’s obviously detrimental to obsess over how each and every line, note, or slide will be received.

If anyone can offer advice on how to snap the brain back to its former state, those tips would be greatly appreciated. Just, please, no suggestions that I give up the Dragon Stout. Ain’t gonna happen.


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5 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    Very trite suggestion, but usually when I encounter a block with a project, I just start putting down the best crap I can do. I plunge ahead for 20 minutes or so and usually the quality goes up as I continue. I then fix the crap in revision. But the goal I set for myself is to work for a certain amount of time, not necessarily to get a baseline of quality.

    As a caveat the writing I do, is entirely business communication. So the upgrade from crap to acceptable is really a small jump. I couldn’t imagine having to satisfy a paying customer for my e-mails regarding TPS cover sheets.

  • Aaron Cael

    The Bull Durham quote reminds me of Barry Hannah’s story “Return to Return” out of Airships.

    “Don’t you understand that the main reason you’re a star is the perfect mental desert you’re able to maintain between your ears for hours and hours?”

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: That’s a trick a lot of professional writers use–basically giving themselves license to fail for a while, in hopes of jarring something loose. The toughest part is quieting your inner critic, that little voice that keeps saying “This stinks” even when you’re just trying to write on auto-pilot.

    @Aaron Cael: Oh, that’s flippin’ brilliant. RIP Barry Hannah.

  • Jordan

    Kinetic memory is interesting stuff. Some days being in the zone really does mean relinquishing conscious thought. Oftentimes when I’m climbing my best, I’ll get most of the way up a route, come to and wonder “How’d I get here?” That’s why both of the tattoos I have are basically reminders not to think too much.

    I have no idea if it’ll work in this case, but I do find that exercise tends to put me in a much better frame of mind to work. The endorphins improve mood a lot and being a bit physically tired can make sitting down to work intellectually more pleasant.

  • shothotbot

    I have a friend who used to write porn when he was blocked. Everyone can write porn and its all bad anyway.