Does Writer’s Block Actually Exist?

Recently, Amanda Riggle wrote a post here at The Poetics Project giving our readers 99 ways to overcome writer’s block. The post got a fair amount of attention, and while there may be many reasons for that, I have come to believe it’s because writers—or aspiring writers—love to be told how to “get over” writer’s block. Or at least, they love to be given a list of ways and to be able to choose which suits them.

A year ago—hell, probably even six months ago—I would have felt the same. Then NaNoWriMo happened, as it does every November. But this year, I participated, something I had never done before. I found out about NaNoWriMo back in high school. I subscribed to all of the newsletters, and each year, I’d get vast amounts of emails, increasing in frequency as the event approached, reminding me to set goals for myself and to start sketching out my story. Generally, I ignored these emails. I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment, I told myself. I didn’t even have an idea I liked enough to dedicate 50,000 words to.

But last year, Amanda challenged all of the contributors at the blog to participate, and because I’m competitive (really, anyone who has played Monopoly with me can attest to this), I accepted. I had an idea. It was pretty rough. I had no idea where it would go, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t meet the goal of 50,000 words. I didn’t. Not even close, really. But you can see the results here.

What I did find out, however, was that writer’s block—that amorphous, indefinable thing I had been bitching at for years for my inability to write—wasn’t real. Let me rephrase that. I could write. I had been writing. The countless word documents stored away on my computer and the note pads shoved in boxes and drawers proved this. But everything was unfinished. I’d get a burst of inspiration, jot a few lines of a poem down or maybe even a few pages of a story, but then i’d forget about it. I’d lose momentum. I’d fall out of love with the idea as quickly as I had fallen for it.

I worry that saying I don’t believe in writer’s block is a little like saying you don’t believe in fairies: a starving writer perishes as soon as the words leave your lips. I’ve read up on the subject plenty—posts like Amanda’s, which offer writers solutions to the gnawing problem. And even here, at the blog, I’m sure there will be more posts like them. But there it is, I don’t believe in it.

Since NaNoWriMo, I have, on most weeks, written anywhere from 1000–3000 words on a story that was based on my trashed NaNoWriMo project. The truth is, most weeks I could do better. But I get lazy. My eyes start to droop or the story begins to bore me, so I tell myself that’s my cue to drop everything and turn on Netflix. Or in some cases, start the homework assignment I had been putting off in order to write. And then there are other weeks, like this week, when I traveled home to visit my long-distance boyfriend with every intention of spending time to write. But I just don’t. I have the time. But my bed look so inviting. My boyfriend—a cook—spoils me with rich, mouthwatering food, and I sink into a coma.

In essence, there is nothing being blocked. When I “can’t” write, one of two things are happening. I am choosing not to, because I’m feeling tired or I have a mile-long to-do list. Or I am choosing not to, because I don’t know where my story is going—or I do know, but I can’t summon the will to write the scene that isn’t speaking to me at that moment. That for whatever reason, I’m avoiding. In both scenarios, I am choosing not to write.

I’ve always hated when I or someone else would spill their guts to a friend about something bothering them, and there would always be the friend in the group who responded “Well, why don’t you just get over it.” As if it were that easy. As if that someone would turn around and say “Really? Just get over it? Why hadn’t I thought of that before!” On the way back from AWP, as I drove from Seattle to Portland with other friends in my program, I discussed my inability to write a particularly intense scene. The driver looked at me and said “Well, does it have to be perfect on your first try?” No. “Why not just write it then?” She didn’t say “get over it”; she said “just write it.” But really, they’re the same thing, but I wasn’t annoyed or angered. She was right.

In a recent article at The Atlantic, Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski, author of Painted Cities, discussed writer’s block. He says “There’s no such thing as writer’s block if you can muster up the courage to write on without knowing where you’re going.”

You can try all of the tricks in the book. You can make up all of the reasons—all of which are valid in their own way—for why now isn’t a good time to pick up the pen and confront the blank page. But remember, you’re a writer. You can conjure up reasons for just about anything. What we, as individuals, should focus on is the why. Why are we scared? For me, it was many things. Some of which require too much explaining to be included in this post. But perfection—expecting it right away—was certainly one of my fears. Uncertainty was the other.

Do you want to defeat writer’s block? Face those fears, and just write it.


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