Writer’s Block is a Myth

overcoming writer's block

I used to believe in writer’s block. On the days when I would sit at the computer or page and feel like I had nothing to say, I’d say, “Oh, I have writer’s block,” and then go off and do something else. Having this “disease” of writer’s block gave me an excuse to avoid the hard work of writing. It was a crutch, something I could point to when someone asked how the writing was going. “Oh, I have writer’s block,” I could say dramatically and sound like some sort of tortured artist who had much to say and could write great works, if only I weren’t burdened with this terrible disease.

And then I wised up to what writer’s block really is. It’s a myth, created by writers who know they should be writing but who simply don’t want to put in the work. They’d rather walk the dog, watch a movie, or play a game than write. They simply can’t admit that they don’t want to write because it’s hard work or because they simply aren’t that dedicated to the occupation. It’s easier and more face saving to invent this mythical condition that afflicts only the gifted and artistic.

In what other field do you hear of some kind of block? Outside of other artistic pursuits like painting or sculpting, you don’t. You never hear about a brain surgeon who stands in front of an open skull and says, “I can’t operate today because I have surgeon’s block.” You don’t hear about a mechanic who stands in front of an open hood and says, “You know, I have mechanic’s block and can’t do this right now.” You never see the great athlete who gets to the Olympics and says, “I can’t run today because I have runner’s block.” Nope. In almost every other occupation and pursuit people just get on with the work. They do what they have to do because it is their job, or because their dream is on the line.

If you think of writing as your job (even if it’s a hobby), you’ll never have writer’s block. You will always find something to write. If one project isn’t firing for you, you start another one or work on another existing project. If you are having trouble getting into the groove, you do some free writing until you get there. Or, you write something even if it’s horrible just to get the words flowing, knowing that everything can be fixed and that your job is to move this project forward. If you can’t think of your writing as a job to be done no matter how your delicate artistic temperament is feeling that day, then you need to find another occupation.

Writer’s block is defined as, “The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.” This should never be a problem for a writer. You should always be able to write something. Maybe it’s not perfect (or even good) and maybe it’s got nothing to do with your primary project. But each time you sit down to write, you should be able to think of something to write, or some way to proceed. If you don’t, it’s not because you have some terrible disease called writer’s block. It’s because you have one of the following afflictions:

  • Laziness
  • You don’t want to work this hard
  • You don’t want it (success, publication, money, etc.) enough
  • You don’t like writing all that much and should probably find another hobby or occupation
  • Something else is simply more important to you
  • The project you’re working on isn’t for you (too difficult, not your specialty, it’s irredeemably bad, etc.) and it’s time to ditch it and start something else.
  • Lack of confidence in your ability
  • Fear
  • Lack of ability

Whatever ails you can be solved. You can dump a bad project. You can deal with your fear. You can do the work to become a better writer. You can decide writing isn’t for you and go out and become a wrestler, instead. You don’t have a disease, you have a problem that needs to be solved. If you solve the problem and approach writing as a professional, you’ll never say, “I have writer’s block” again.

The day I began to see writing as my job, even if I wasn’t getting paid for it just yet, the writer’s block disappeared. I knew I had to work at writing, just like I would have to work at any other occupation. There is no exemption because I’m in an “artistic” field. There’s no excuse for not doing the work, short of illness or some sort of catastrophe. Just like any employer would expect me to get the work done no matter what, I now expect the same for myself. Now that I’ve adopted that attitude, I can always find something to write or some project to work on.

Writer’s block is for divas who believe that writing is some mystical gift governed by a muse who either appears for you or doesn’t. It’s an excuse used to get someone out of the hard work of becoming a better writer. It’s not for professionals who treat writing as a job to be done.

(Photo courtesy of Drew Coffman)

9 comments

  1. As a professional writer, I have to agree and disagree with this article.

    First of all, writer’s block is not a myth. There are times when you’re simply stumped on where to go or how to describe something, and the best course of action may be to put your project down, do something else for a while, and let the answer come to you in its own time. It can happen to anyone, and it’s not always your fault.

    Drafting a detailed, complete outline before actually writing your book can reduce that problem, and remaining dedicated is certainly important, but even that I find sometimes won’t totally eliminate the problem. Any detailed creative work has the potential to hit a snag, because no one can produce a constant stream of creativity, and solving abstract problems often just takes time. That’s why painters and sculptors, as you mentioned, have their won equivalent of writer’s block.

    The examples you referred to of professions that don’t get an equivalent of writer’s block are inapplicable, in my opinion. Surgery and auto repair are technical fields, not creative fields, and solutions lie in already knowing how to fix any problems that present themselves, a luxury that writers and artists don’t have. However, even doctors and mechanics need to figure things out, and they can easily be baffled for a time by unique difficulties.

    Runners perform with their bodies, not their minds, so they really can’t get an equivalent of writer’s block. They can have a performance off-day if their body is ailed or something, but that’s different. Athletes in competitive team sports can have days when their head isn’t in the game, and that can be construed as a form of writer’s block.

    However, you’re absolutely correct in saying that writer’s block can be (and often is) artificially induced. I’ve caught myself falling under several of the self-afflictions you listed, and I’ve seen it happen to other writers I know. I’ve had many days where there are about a dozen other things I’d rather do, eliminating my focus and rendering me unable to continue my project. Other days, as you noted, I feel just plain lazy, and it’s very difficult to progress with a disengaged mind.

    Anyway, there’s my two or three cents. A good and useful article overall, but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss writer’s block or to blame yourself for drawing a blank. My advice would be to ensure that you’re not creating the block, and if you’re not, just put down the project and let your mind rest. The answers will always come to the good writers, but sometimes it just takes time.

  2. I strongly disagree with your assertion and I feel I have a personal experience of what is commonly called “writers block”. I believe “writers block” is poorly named because surely those suffering it can surely write a shopping list or their name. In my case it was more a manifestation of the fear of inadequacy .Let me explain. I am a very creative person and in my teens wrote considerably. My “block” began when a creative writing teacher and a mythology teacher in my HIgh school both told my parents at a teachers conference that I was writing at a professional level and could make my living at it in spite of my relatively young age. When my parents,who were used to negative parent/teacher conferences, proudly informed me (not only was I a “reformed” dyslexic, lucky enough to have gotten fantastic therapy, I was , by that time a bit of a ne’er do well and quite taken with the “burn out” culture that was popular at the time), nothing I wrote seemed good enough. I thought that I needed to create award winning, socially significant oeuvres that would change the world.Any socially or personal writing that I attempted seemed too personally revealing and my fiction seemed banal. I am now 51 and am looking to re-kindle the creativity that has always been there, but I just have to accept that writing is better than not writing. Though I have definite ideas of what the world needs to hear, I am still too worried what others might think of me. I’ve often heard people make judgments on the imagination of others that I worry if I share some of my stranger thoughts that people I love and respect would think my characters or projections were an extension of my desires and an indication of a maladjustment. So I do believe in the idea of writers block, just not the term.

  3. Good post Kevin. All I can say to you is not give a crap what your friends/family thinks of your work, you’re free to express your creativity in whichever way to wish, and to tell yourself that you’re being watched, and your works will be judged by your peers will only serve to prevent the creation of anything to begin with. Put these people, these ideas out of your mind, just write. Write for yourself, write for the sake of writing, write to let out some creativity. Just write.

  4. I think this article rests on a general misunderstanding of what people think writers block is. When people say they have writers block, I don’t think they think they have absolutely nothing to write. They just don’t know how to advance a story or article in the direction they want because they don’t know what direction they want to go down.

    I agree that some times it’s just an excuse to do no writing at all but creativity isn’t always at a high. The same way a mathematician might not be able to solve a problem but come back later and find a different approach to it.

    I don’t think writer’s block is a myth but it can be intertwinned with the fear of not producing your best every time to you do something.

    Creativity can be improved just like any other skill in my opinion and you’ll have stumbling blocks but it helps to just keep trying.

    Anyway, interesting article. Enjoyed reading it.

  5. I don’t have and have never had a broken bone, but that does not mean one can’t break a bone. There was even a point in my life when I was completely convinced I’d broken my hand, but it turned out I hadn’t. My nephew, on the other hand, did break his hand about a week ago. Broken bones exist. I have been blessed to have never been the recipient of such, but they really do happen.

    When writers who have been fortunate enough to never really been crippled by writers block blithely singsong on the internet that there’s no such thing, I often wonder how many other things they assume don’t exist just because it hasn’t happened to them.

  6. Writer’s block is the stopping of creative thinking in a certain direction because of indecision.
    The inability to figure out how to proceed with a “Single project.” Just because one has writers block doesn’t mean they couldn’t write something different or some crappy one shot, their hands aren’t gone. That seems to be a misconception on your part, of what writers block really is.

    Personally? I don’t have writer’s block, I’m just REAAAALY lazy, along with being busy. Bad mixture. Regardless, as a critic I do know it exists, I’ve seen it. I’ve been there helping hundreds of writers figure out what to do next.

    It’s not a disease or some excuse as you put it, it’s a problem that needs work to get through. It can effect anyone working on anything creative. People can be burnt out and a new perspective is great. Honestly I suggest that anyone suffering from writers block simply talk to a close friend about the idea and ask for advice on how to move forward. Maybe brain storm.

    Unwillingness to continue and being stumped are different things, something your article try’s to deny.

    What you’re approaching here isn’t the absence of writer’s block in existence, but people who use it as an excuse to be unwilling.

    You’re beef is with laziness, simple as that. You may be clear headed all the time but most people aren’t, most people simply don’t have the imagination to match up with that.

    I do agree with a few things in your article though. For instance, a doctor doesn’t quit saving people because he’s stumped. He finds something to study on the problem or procedure so he knows how to act accordingly, maybe he asks a friend.

    It’s the same with writing.

    My personal cure for “writers block”?

    Create an “idea folder” and get some themed music. Play the music, sit back and let your imagination run with it. Write down whatever you imagine, no matter how weird.

    Eventually you’ll have a folder filled to the brim with ideas to call upon and mold to your purpose when you find yourself confused or indecisive.

  7. Writers Block is so way real! Normally it happens when your stressed over something (what you’re writing, something that happened before you started writing, ect.) Thats why you walk away from the project for a little while

  8. Whether or not it exists, my opinion is, “Always have more than one writing project at any given time. That way if you get hung-up on something start work on other projects so you never stop being productive. If you need a break, try to read a good (or horrible) book, but do try to avoid TV.”

    I’m a bit of a hypocrite about the TV thing, but typically I have about ten projects going all the time (not a good idea for people who don’t keep good notes).

    Thank you for the article 🙂

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