Years ago, I read an article by William Styron (author of Lie Down in Darkness, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie’s Choice,) in a periodical called the Saturday Review of Literature, which is no longer published. I wished I had saved it because I’ve never been able to find it and it made a big impact on me.
If I remember correctly, Styron suggested that, crudely speaking, the writer is motivated by two forces, emotional and intellectual. That, at best, when writing, these forces are equally at work but that it is the emotional that gives force and power to writing. It is the intellectual side that shapes, and controls. Moreover, the intellectual monitors the emotional side. Things go awry, he suggested, if the intellectual censors the emotional, which is to say the writer becomes fearful or backs away from what he/she is writing. Yet it is the emotional which more often than not motivates the author to write.
Being scared of what one is writing happens quite often. Are you shying away from something because it seems frightening? Are you pulling back because you are afraid of making something (an idea, revelation, secret, or act) public?
I knew a writer who was writing a thriller. Quite casually, he asked himself, “Who am I most like in this book?” The quick (in the head) answer: “The villain.” It stopped the writer (and writing) cold. Mind you, it was all in his thoughts.It took months of self-therapy to sort that one out, so he could continue writing. (Aside: I was once told that the occupational disease of writers is depression.) Another writer I knew found herself completely blocked. Why? She was using the death of her brother as the basis of a novel. She just could not write the book. Too difficult.
At the moment I am working on a book that deals with war, a truly horrific event. I find myself backing away from its details, events, human destruction. I hesitate, and have to force myself forward. It is as unpleasant as writing gets. I keep telling myself that if I can capture the pain I will have a strong book. And I think it will be a good story. But, oh, it is hard!