Displacement is defined as ‘an unnecessary activity that you do because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult activity’, whereas writer’s block is a ‘condition in which you lose the ability to produce new work, or experience a creative slowdown’. I’m very good at displacement, not so good at writer’s block.
For me, displacement is a means of getting into the zone, a series of rituals that lead me into the world I’ve created; taking the dog out, closing all those irritating chores and admin tasks down in order to clear the decks. Or it can simply be a means of wasting time. You’d be surprised at how much time I can waste, or maybe you’re not? However, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes the only way is to walk away for the day because the writing is just not happening.
Displacement can be a way of ordering my thoughts, thinking about where I left off, collating all the light-bulb moment notes I’ve scribbled – the flashes of inspiration when an idea strikes, often at the strangest of times, and a twist in the plot or character’s motivation is resolved. And then there’s the organising of my immediate writing environment; putting away what I don’t need, making sure I’ve got what I do need to refer to is close by. This could also be called “knolling”, ‘the process of arranging related objects as a method of organization’ and, for me, it’s an aspect of the discipline of writing.
I never really believed in writer’s block until it happened. I was juggling too many things, over-tired, this needed doing, that needed doing. As the weeks went by and then months, a year, I convinced myself that I’d made a conscious decision to have a break from writing. There was absolutely no space in my head and whatever rituals I did, I just couldn’t get into the zone. But then I thought, it will come back, there will be space in my head again. Nothing ever stays the same, everything changes. Apparently under stress the human brain shifts control to the instinctive processes, the fight or flight response, and this hinders the creative processes.