In Eric M. Eisenberg's "Building a Mystery: Toward a New Theory of Communication and Identity," one of the things Eisenberg discusses is the therapeutic approaches to rewriting personal narratives. He makes a comparison between being a protagonist and being a storyteller and how each role can either constrict a person's identity and his or her view of the world or help expand one's identity and view. Being the protagonist, for example, is safe--we know that story, we know the character, and even if we feel trapped by the role, the safety of it, the comfortability of it keeps us trapped within that identity. It can also keep us from seeing beyond the role to the world and other people that surround us. On the other hand, the storyteller, as Eisenberg asserts, "always keeps one metatruth in mind: I am not the story" (547). Not "being the story," the storyteller easily moves from story to story. The storyteller stays in a story long "enough to feel the emotional connection, to experience the heroics and the relationships, but the storyteller always reserves the right to tell a different story." In short, "whereas the protagonist's resources always are limited by the context, the storyteller's resources are limited only by his or her imagination" (547).
Now, you may be wondering why I'm spouting off on an article I read for my dissertation work on a blog about writing.
Well, as I read this article, I thought about writer's block. Often, I hear writers talk of their inability to move forward in a story. "I don't know how to move on to the next part," one might say. "I know what I want to happen, but it won't come out," another might complain. "My characters totally left me and this story," another will bemoan.
I would argue that sometimes, when we're in the drudgery of writer's block, we are performing the role of Eisenberg's protagonist. As a "protagonist" writer, we are stuck in the context we created for our story. We have developed outlines that we refuse to break from, we have an idea of who the characters are and the "right" way to write the story. We are so focused on that one "identity" of our story that we can't see beyond it. When things don't work to fit in that story's identity, we become frustrated, the creativity stops flowing: we enter the domain of writer's block.
To break one's self from writer's block, we can see ourselves as Eisenberg's storyteller. Now, I know what you're thinking. But I AM a storyteller! Yes, yes, you are. Congratulations. But just listen. I know we are all very close, very personal to our stories, but I think at times it's important to remember Eisenberg's metatruth: "I am not the story." When we find ourselves unable to move forward in our story, we should know to zoom out on the story, to look beyond it--the characters, the plots, the structure we have determined to be musts for the story--to see what other people, what other parts of the world are around the story we are trying to write so that we can perhaps incorporate those things and refashion our story in a way that makes it stronger. The "storyteller" writer looks to find the stories that fit the best...not the story we think should fit.
So, the next time you find yourself at the door of writer's block, stop, zoom out, and pan your story's surroundings. Move beyond the constructs you have created for your story and figure out what other elements of your story's surroundings might help to develop a stronger story.
Eisenberg, Eric M. 2001 “Building a Mystery: Communication and the Development of Identity.” Journal of Communication 51.3 (2001): 534–552. Web.