The Dark Myth of Writer’s Block

This post is unusual for me in that I’m almost straying into controversial territory. Why? Because I believe that writer’s block is a myth.

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When I first heard of Calvin and Hobbes I honestly thought it was a teamup of 17th century English monarchical philosopher Thomas Hobbes and Protestant Reformer John Calvin #historystudent

Ooft, okay I said it. I don’t mean it. But I’m getting the idea, just the idea, out there. A lot of writers don’t question the existence of writer’s block, and when you cease to question your beliefs you let your guard down and drop your game. Consider the following a healthy challenge to your cosy writing mentality.

In doing research for this article, I googled “Writer’s Block” (what, it’s not as though I’m being graded on this). Two interesting things struck me. Firstly, the web definition of writer’s block is “an inability to write; “he had writer’s block; the words wouldn’t come”.”

Now this immediately gave me pause. The words “wouldn’t come.” Are the words a dog? Do you literally find yourself unable to process words at some stage of your writing career? If words cease to hold their meaning for you, or you are unable to type them onto a keyboard, you should maybe seek professional help.

The second interesting pointer was that, according to Wikipedia, the term “writer’s block” was first coined in 1947. Since then it’s been so widely and thoroughly documented as to seemingly put its existence, not to mention the seriousness of its threat to a writers wellbeing, beyond any doubt.

I’m not going to argue there’s no such thing as writer’s block, despite the grim catchy-ness of this post title. I’d like to see someone with more knowledge and more spare time try. What I will say however, is that idea of “the Block” is more dangerous to writers than “the Block” itself. Knowing how supposedly rampant and commonplace writer’s block is, it can be easy for a wordsmith on an off day to fling her hands in the air, decrying “oh, tis the Block,” thus abandoning her writing at least momentarily.

In reality what said fictional writer should do is get the damn hell on with type-type-typing and stop looking for excuses. There are a hundred thousand things which stop wordflow – kids, jobs, pets, communist sleeper agents, alcohol, the shape -shifting fairy hippopotami hiding in the cupboard. All of these are honest, valid reasons to stop writing (especially the last one). Don’t try and make up excuses, you don’t need them. Blaming something as artsy as “writer’s block” isn’t necessary. Just assess the difficulty for what it is – real life.

Now as I said, I do think everyone gets real writer’s block now and then. What I object to is its elevation to bogeymonster status amongst writers. It brings me back to the first point about the “words won’t come” excuse. When you take a step back and assess that kind of claim, you realise just how lame-ass and whiney it sounds. There probably is a reason you can’t write today – maybe you’re just dog-tired – but writer’s block isn’t it.

Look upon this post as a call to man up a little and stop giving writer’s block all the glory. It can be tough when you really do get it, but don’t make it worse. Don’t give other writers, especially newbiews like me, an excuse to stop writing by blaming our real issues on something insubstantial.

I’m interest to hear other’s thoughts on this. Personally I don’t think I’ve ever experienced writer’s block, hence my whole initial scepticism about it even existing. Sure, I have highs and lows constantly in my writing, but this abstract, almost medically defined idea of just not being able to write anything pageworthy at all, nope. None of that. What about you?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Dark Myth of Writer’s Block

  1. Writer’s block is a misnomer. You are right in pointing out that things that stop the writer’s waterfall of words are usually something else that requires a lot more explaining (like shape-shifting fairy hippopotami) and thus results in the easy label of “writer’s block”. The solution to the problem for me is usually a “whack on the side of the head”, a sort of jump-starter of ideas. For instance the word MISNOMER. There’s a ten-dollar word. What if it were a name? Miss Nomer? I think I dated her once. 1977? Her brother was a gas-station attendant named Gomer. That’s right. Gomer Nomer. See? Ideas are off to the races!

  2. Writers’ block is really ‘ideas block’ isn’t it? We could all start writing words on a page or computer – we could switch from prose to poetry or fiction to non-fiction to energise ourselves, but if we don’t have ‘inspiration’ or ideas worth writing down then we are ‘blocked.’
    If you are in the middle of a novel and don’t know what to write next the advice is to imagine your characters in different situations, or when they were younger, Go for a walk or do something completely different and let your subconscious work things out.
    If you have half a poem but can’t end it – make a spidergraph or list random words to do with the subject.
    If you are up against a deadline try drawing, photographing or talking about the subject- using a different sense may trigger a worthwhile idea.
    There are so many different causes of ‘blocks’ but most of them can be shifted!

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