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4 Questions about Writer’s Block… answered by the pros!

May 3, 2016
The author completely lost his train of thought as soon as he put his manuscript on the writer's block. (image via wikimedia)

Putting your work-in-progress on the writer’s block is never a good idea. (image via wikimedia)

Writer’s block can be an author’s worst enemy.  As an aspiring author, I’ve learned how to deal with writer’s block, but since I’m not a famous (or a particularly successful) author, nobody really cares about my opinion about it.  I understand that.  Maybe successful authors are more credible sources about writer’s block that I am.

Theoretically, a published author should be able to explain how to deal with writer’s block better than a part-time blogger like me.  Unfortunately, as we shall soon see, successful writers don’t always give the best advice about writing and writer’s block.

What is writer’s block?

“Writer’s block is just another name for fear.” ― Jacob Nordby, author of a bunch of self-help books

I don’t know much about Jacob Nordby, but this is one of the worst explanations of writer’s block I’ve heard.  I know a lot about fear.  After all, I’m scared and worried about many things.  But even though I feel a lot of emotions (excitement, frustration, anger, exhilaration) when I write, fear isn’t one of them.

The only time I feel fear during the writing process is when somebody is reading my work right in front of me, but that hasn’t happened in over 20 years.   With a blog, I never get to see a reader’s reaction.  If somebody leaves a comment on my blog telling me that I suck, I’m glad to have gotten a reaction.  But if somebody tells me to my face that I suck, it hurts my feelings.

I think a better explanation is that writer’s block is your brain saying “I’m not going to be creative today.”  It’s when you want to write and your brain won’t let you.  And why would anybody be scared about writing?

What do you do when you get writer’s block?

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all” ― Charles Bukowski, author of weird poetry and fiction

If Charles Bukowski says it’s okay, then maybe it’s okay to write about writer’s block, but only as a last resort.  It’s like the student who writes a story about not being able to think of a story to write about and then he/she wakes up and it’s all a dream.  You don’t want to write a story like that, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

Whenever I get writer’s block, instead of writing about writer’s block, I just quit until I feel more rested.  But maybe writing about writer’s block isn’t a bad idea.

Just so you know, I’m not writing about writer’s block because I have it.  I don’t have writer’s block.  I have what I think should be called editor’s block.  I’m writing a lot of stuff, but I haven’t been successful fixing much of it.  My mind has been going blank whenever I’ve been making corrections and adding/deleting word/phrases.  This lack of editing has left me with a bunch of substandard drafts that don’t meet my blog’s standards. I know a piece of writing isn’t very good if it doesn’t meet my blog’s standards.  I’ve never seen editor’s block before, so maybe I’ll copyright it and see if I can sue somebody when they use without my permission.

What does getting writer’s block say about you as a writer?

“Writer’s block is for people who have the luxury of time.”- Jody Picoult, famous author of a bunch of best selling novels that make people cry

“Luxury of time?”  This contradicts everything I know about writer’s block.  The only reason writer’s block is a problem is because writers have deadlines (and no time to meet them).  If a writer has a lot of time, he/she could quit when writer’s block struck.  If you have the luxury of time, you don’t care about writer’s block.

Even though I’d love to be a successful author, I’m glad I’m not a professional writer because I could see myself getting writer’s block at the worst possible moments.   And then if I couldn’t conquer writer’s block, I’d get fired.  I don’t really care if I get writer’s block now because my blog won’t fire me.

I guess my lack of fear of writer’s block causes me not to have it.  Maybe that Jacob Nordby guy was onto something after all.

Why do people get writer’s block?

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” ― Terry Pratchett, famous author of a bunch of humorous fantasy novels

At first, I thought Pratchett was full of crap (Remember, Crap is NOT a Bad Word!), but maybe he is on to something.  According to Merriam Webster, the term writer’s block was first used in 1950.  California became a state in 1850.  It’s possible that somebody in California invented writer’s block.  I’m surprised it didn’t exist before 1950, though.  We’d had centuries of writers before 1950, and it took that long before somebody became afflicted with writer’s block.  It kind of makes sense; a lot of afflictions were created in the 20th century.

I don’t like people who make up afflictions, but I also dislike people who deny that afflictions exist.  Maybe Terry Pratchett never experienced writer’s block, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  When I was a kid, I suffered from motion sickness, and the rest of my family told me it was all in my head.  That ticked me off.  Now I know that there’s a logical physiological(?) reason that I got motion sickness, and it wasn’t my imagination or me psyching myself out.

If Terry Pratchett didn’t believe in writer’s block, he might not have believed in motion sickness either, and I bet he really wouldn’t have believed in editor’s block.

*****

What do you think?  What other questions about writer’s block do you want answered by the pros?  Is editor’s block a real thing, or is it all in my head? What do you do when you get writer’s block?

*****

When I was in high school, I had to write a story (it wasn’t about writer’s block) and read it in front of the class.

And that’s when a bunch of weird stuff happened.

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11 Comments
  1. Editor’s block? Editing is my favorite part of writing. I kind of can’t stand the actual writing part sometimes. It’s much easier to move or change words than to start with a blank page and think about how many you will need to fill it up.

    • I don’t know. I usually like editing too, but lately, I’ve been staring at my words, knowing I need to change some stuff but not sure how. So I went to writing some other material. We’ll see how that works out soon.

  2. I like that quote from Pratchett. I think maybe he was just having a go at people who use the term ‘writers block’ in a pretentious way to prove how very artistic and authentic they are, struggling with the muse, rather than banging out the words. ‘Writers’ block’ of raises authorship to some mysterious, almost existential struggle between the writer and the page, rather than a job where you produce words for cash.
    I’ve not really been blocked yet – I didn’t know how to proceed with a sequel to a book I’ve written, but that just meant I’ve begun writing up another of my ideas instead.
    As for editor’s block – maybe you need fresh eyes on the subject? Pass it on to a writer friend and even if you disagree with what they say, it may spark you off in a new direction anyway.

  3. It’s true that your blog can’t fire you. But it can tell you “Sorry, Jimmy, but this post isn’t up to my standards. Neither is this one. Or that one. Or anything in your draft folder. You know, why don’t you take a few months off and maybe come back when you have something?”

    • “You know, why don’t you take a few months off and maybe come back when you have something?”-

      Months? Maybe a few days. Or a couple weeks. I hope it doesn’t take a few months.

  4. The fear factor is very real in writer’s block. I would also add impostor syndrome as fear’s annoying cousin that creeps up on you and your writing when you least expect it.

  5. I’d guess that if you get to that ‘unable to go on’ stage with something you are writing, it’s probably because you’re writing the wrong thing, ie the original idea was no good and you’re just finding that out. In which case, abandon it or set it aside for a while.

    Or it’s because you’re trying to steer the plot/characters away from the direction they need to go in, attempting to overrule them instead of letting them tell you where they want to go. This might be because you are still thinking of yourself as the creator of the story rather than that the story is using you to create itself. It might be because where the story wants to go somewhere dark, unfamiliar, embarrassing, or challenging to your current skills as a writer. It may be because it means being more honest with yourself than you can bear to be, just at the moment.

    Maybe the secret is to first work out what is at the root of the anxiety, then decide whether you have the courage to push on and write through it at this stage. Sometimes, as in psychoanalysis, just knowing the reason is enough to cure the problem.

    Or you could move to a different point in the story. Write the last chapter, for example. You could try jumping into a different ‘head’ and writing a scene from the point of view of one of the other characters. You could try talking to your character, asking them questions, see what they want to tell you. You could try going for a long walk, going to the cinema, driving for miles… but taking a notebook with you.

  6. Now I have an excuse if someone tells me that my stories suck, I just tell them that I had editor’s block.

  7. srithabandla permalink

    I really never thought about Writers block .I have a blog in blogger , where I blog quite frequently . I blog about the things which I am really comfortable with . I can also say I never went outside of my comfort zone to write anything! May be that is the main reason I don’t have writer’s block . May be I did not notice it or might not have even recognized it as a writer’s block !! Anyway now I understand what it is !
    Now I blog about something else , which I never thought I would blog about in the first place . I some times feel this: a pang of emotion! As if some one has stolen my skill of writing . Nothing can be done at all to retreive that ! As if it has gone an would never return to me ! But that is not true . I take a couple of days off and then I am good to go ! What you have written is really interesting and funny too 🙂 .. I really liked it !

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  1. Writer’s block can be an author’s worst enemy – Light and Darkness

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