“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”
—Sir Terry Pratchett
There are a few schools of thought when it comes to writer’s block. Some people believe it doesn’t really exist while others insist it does. Regardless of what your stance is, some writers mythologize writer’s block as a kind of bogeyman to be feared like the plague while others deny its existence altogether.
While there are always different reasons for why writers feel blocked at a given time, there are three general divisions I’ve noticed over the years that writers tend to fall into:
One: This is for writers who need to spend less time on Facebook/Netflix/[insert other source of addiction here]. While one could argue this is pretty much all of us, the root of the problem in this category is procrastination. While that’s a separate topic in and of itself, most of the writers here feel uninspired or blocked due to fear so all of a sudden social media sites, video games, or even laundry seem like much more appealing options than the fear of facing the blank page.
Two: This deals with writers who are going through a major crisis such as a divorce, job loss, financial woes, the death of a loved one, the fallout from a traumatic event (such as an attack or a robbery), caring for a loved one who is ill, receiving a diagnosis of a major illness, and so on. It’s challenging enough to feel creative in day-to-day life without something negative happening to muck it up, but when something jarring happens to a person, it affects their ability to create for a good chunk of time. Everyone is different and no two people will respond the same way to something in this category.
Three: This is for writers who suffer from mental health issues, often in addition to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis. The severity of one’s condition varies from person to person, but sometimes what a writer mistakes for writer’s block can be severe depression. Writers and depression go hand-in-hand (although not always), so it’s important to recognize that if you fall into this category, it’s essential to receive the proper treatment. For some people this may be a combination of medication and talk therapy. For others, they may need a more extensive kind of therapy. And for others still, this may look like mindfulness meditations and yoga.
There’s actually something else that’s more pernicious than the third category. Some writers aren’t capable of accessing their deepest, most primal desires. Their fears. The things that make them shake where they’re sitting. The things that rob them of their breath when they wake up in the middle of the night (or that prevent them from going to sleep).
In order to be able to write well, a person needs to cultivate the ability to be intensely vulnerable and to open themselves up to all kinds of pain–the things we tuck away in the back corners of our minds and that we hope don’t resurface, the things that lurk in the cobwebs, and the things that we would rather pretend don’t exist, the things we wish didn’t happen, the things we wish we could take back or that we could change.
So, does writer’s block exist or is it just a myth, a kind of crutch that writers lean on when we’re not feeling inspired but we’re not sure what the source of our lack of momentum is?
Writer Unboxed has written several pieces on the subject, including this one from today.
As their post mentions, fear is probably the biggest killer of creativity. It restrains us, tells us we’re not good enough and probably never will be, and forces us to accept decisions that seem like safe choices because they feel familiar or because there’s less pressure attached to them.
Trying too hard is another culprit behind why the words won’t come. We feel pressured to produce something that will sell, or we’re worried that the book we want to write most won’t sell, or a multitude of other things that fit this category.
And yes, there is the psychiatric point of view that emphasizes that writer’s block is an excuse for not having enough discipline to sit down in their chairs and write. But this is limiting–it doesn’t take into account what’s going on in a person’s life at the time and doesn’t encourage writers to take stock of our issues, to drive at the root of our paralysis and find out what’s really going on beneath the surface.
Some writers find a way to get around their blockage is to do something else, then come back to the writing. Others use a reward system whereby they produce a certain amount of words, then reward themselves with a TV show or video game they’ve been looking forward to watching or playing all day.
What about you? Do you think writer’s block is real? What helps you get over those slump periods when your writing just isn’t flowing? Sound off below!