BBC 6 minute English-How to cure writer’s block

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BBC 6 minute English-How to cure writer’s block

 

 

Transcript of the podcast

Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript

Alice: Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Alice

Neil: And I’m Neil. Have you ever written any poetry, Alice

Alice: No. Have you

Neil: Oh yes. I’ve got a sheaf of poems from my youth

Alice: A sheaf of something means a bundle of things, particularly paper. What about now? Are you still writing

Neil: No, my creative juices have dried up

Alice: What a shame! I would have liked to hear some of your poems! Creative juices means a flow of ideas and the subject of today’s show is creativity and writer’s block – which means not being able to write because of a psychological problem

Neil: So not like tennis elbow or golfer’s knee, then

Alice: No, Neil, because a psychological problem refers to the mind not the body. And whilst some people view writer’s block as nonsense others believe it is a serious psychological condition that can get better with treatment

Neil: Well, I have a question for you, Alice. How does author of the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, deal with writer’s block? Does he

a) hang upside down from the ceiling in gravity boots

b) clean his 6-bedroom house from top to bottom with a toothbrush?Or

c) run a half-marathon listening to opera music by Richard Wagner

Alice: I think it’s c) run a half-marathon listening to Wagner. Exercise and music might get your creative juices flowing again

Neil: Well, we’ll find out whether you got the right answer later on in the show. But first, Alice, can you tell us where the term writer’s block comes from

Alice: Well, the term was coined – or invented – in 1950 by a Viennese psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler. Let’s listen to Zachary Leader, Professor of English Literature at Roehampton University talking about the psychoanalytic theory of writer’s block

INSERT
Zachary Leader, Professor of English Literature at Roehampton University

Before writers were blocked the other metaphors that were used were things like ‘drying up’ … or ‘being frozen’ or ‘stuck in a rut’ and so forth. And the difference between being blocked and drying up is that in the case of blockage the problem is externalised and objectified – it’s not yourself that’s the problem – it’s something that’s outside you like an obstacle or an impediment – something that you could really cut away, and as a consequence a cure like a growth or a foreign body

Neil: So writer’s block is a metaphor for an obstacle – something external rather than internal inside of you – that’s preventing you from working. Doesn’t that sound like an excuse for not doing anything, Alice? It’s not my fault – this impediment thing is getting in the way

Alice: Yes. Well, impediment is another word for obstacle. But how do you cut away a foreign body that isn’t actually there

Neil: I suppose psychoanalysts have an answer for that. But seriously, I think writers probably do have a hard time. You can sit down at your desk every morning at 9 o’clock to write but that doesn’t mean you’re going to think of things to say. Though we’re never stuck for words, are we

Alice: Not usually, Neil, no. But did you know that the Ancient Greeks had Muses – or goddesses of creativity – to help them

Neil: So… Beyoncé isn’t a real muse? I’ve heard people say, you know, Beyoncé is my muse; she’s such a great singer, songwriter, dancer, role model

Alice: Well, these days, ‘muse’ can refer to anyone who inspires an artist, writer, or musician. But in Ancient Greece, there were nine Muses – and depending on what type of creative thing you did – philosophy, poetry, science and so on – you invoked – or called upon – that particular Muse to inspire you

Neil: I call upon you, oh Alice, to enlighten us with more information about the Greek Muses

Alice: Alright then. So let’s listen to Angie Hobbs instead. She’s Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield here in the UK – and here she is now, talking about what the Greek Muses symbolized

INSERT
Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

We’ve seen that the Muses were connected to running water, to springs, to fountains, fluidity. So if you’re musing, you are letting your mind wander, you’re opening yourself up to new influences and new ideas, and not thinking in too structured a way

Neil: Musing, letting your mind wander, thinking in a fluid, unstructured way – that all sounds very pleasant – maybe I should have another go at writing

Alice: Well, according to research, some people are better at mind wandering and opening themselves up to new ideas than others. Their minds work differently – they have more dopamine in the thalamus region of the brain

Neil: The thalamus controls consciousness, sleep and the senses and dopamine is the feel-good chemical in the brain. Is that right

Alice: Yes, and having more dopamine in the thalamus enables some people to see the world in a different way – and they express this creatively – through science, music, the arts. Now, before you start musing on how much dopamine you have in your brain, Neil, perhaps you can tell us the answer to today’s quiz question

Neil: I asked: How does author of the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, deal with writer’s block? Does he

a) hang upside down from the ceiling in gravity boots

b) clean his 6-bedroom house from top to bottom with a toothbrush?Or

c) run a half-marathon listening to opera music by Richard Wagner

Alice: And I said c) run a half-marathon listening to opera music by Richard Wagner

Neil: And you were wrong, Alice! The answer is a) hang upside down from the ceiling in gravity boots

Alice: Really

Neil: Yes. I expect all that increased blood flow to the brain is helpful in clearing writer’s block

Alice: Yes. Good plan. OK, here are the words we learned today

creative juices
writer’s block
coined
impediment
Muses
invoked
thalamus
dopamine

Neil: So, Alice, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely

Alice: That’s not your poem, Neil – It’s Shakespeare’s! Well, and that’s the end of today’s 6 Minute English

Neil: OK, I’m off to lie on the sofa and evoke my muse. Please join us again soon

Both: Bye

BBC 6 minute English-How to cure writer’s block
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