Author Robert Anthony Siegel set out to resolve his writer’s block by taking a pill, a fast-acting solution to a serious problem.
In this case, though, the pill he wanted was a placebo on its face.
A placebo is a sham, but as Siegel mentions in Why I Take Fake Pills, research suggests that placebos seem to mitigate our ailments even when we know the cure isn’t “real.” These results remind me of my favorite line from Peppa Pig (please indulge me): “It’s better than real; it’s pretend!” It’s lovely to imagine an effective treatment that doesn’t have side effects and on which you can’t overdose.
Hoping to harness the real power of pretend pills, Siegel explained his problems to John Kelley, the deputy director of Harvard’s Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter, who said:
‘I think we can design a pill for that… We’ll fine-tune your writing pill for maximum effectiveness, color, shape, size, dosage, time before writing. What color do you associate with writing well?’
For Siegel, that color was “gold,” which translates to yellow in the pharmaceutical world.
Siegel’s magic pills worked once he’d reached a “therapeutic dose.” The sentences he produced were “awkward and slow,” at least in his opinion, but certainly better than nothing.
His experience has made me think about the methods I’ve used to overcome writer’s block, a challenge I face in multiple parts of my life. As A. M. Blair, I write middle grade and contemporary fiction, and under a similar (but different) name, I practice law, a job that requires me to pound out memos, briefs, and other written documents that don’t always flow easily from my anxiety-ridden brain.
Lately, I’ve been taking specific measures to address writer’s block: I take a walk, brew myself a cup of tea, close the door, and set a timer for 25 minutes. If I can get through those 25 minutes, then I’ll have something on the page. That’s a start, something to build on for as many 25 minute-increments as it takes to finish the project.
Maybe I’ll add a placebo pill to my ritual. Couldn’t hurt, right? My capsules would be purple.*
*However, I’m not willing to pay what Siegel paid for his! Check out his article, Why I Take Fake Pills (linked above), to find out how much he paid and why.
**Definition of “Placebo” is from Merriam-Webster.