By photosteve101, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Lately, I’ve been coming across numerous writers who insist writer’s block doesn’t exist – it’s just an excuse for writers not to write. I can kind of see that point of view. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure writer’s block exists, because I suffered from it for five years.
“Writer’s block is a fabrication,” declares John Dufresne, in The Lie That Tells a Truth (a pretty fantastic book, if you’re into how-to-be-a-writer books). He goes on to insist writing is like any other job, and no secretary refuses to come in to work because of “secretary block.” And then comes a surprising sentence – maybe if writer’s block keeps you from writing, you never really wanted to be a writer in the first place, anyway. After all, we always make time to do the things we love.
Well-known blogger and best-selling author, Scott Berkum, agrees: “writer’s block is a sham.” He insists that no other creative profession – architects, painters, composers, etc. – complain about the pressures of coming up with something new the way we writers do.
But if writer’s block doesn’t exist, it’s the most frustrating non-existent disease I’ve ever had. But the kind I caught seems to be a strain only mildly related to the kind Dufresne and Berkum describe. They both state the defining symptom is not writing at all. But that wasn’t my problem. My problem was being unable to write anything good.
After all, when I had writer’s block I wrote three novellas (approximately 20,000 words each), and abandoned at least five manuscripts halfway through, not to mention those I started and abandoned after a page, or the short stories that went nowhere. The problem was that every word I wrote was trash. You know that lovely trance-like state you get when writing, when you can see into your characters’ heads and the words just flow right out of your pen? Yeah, that didn`t happen.
In other words, the high that had addicted me to writing in the first place had disappeared. Wow, interesting metaphor…
I used to love describing fantastic dresses. But after writer`s block struck my prose was reduced to: “She wore a red dress with a brown collar.” I used to love to make up fantasy worlds. But though I kept putting my characters in different settings, none of the worlds seemed real. The characters didn’t seem real. And if they don’t seem real to the author, there’s no way a reader will buy in.
Both Berkum and Dufresne insist that part of writer’s block is not just the fear of writing, but a fear of not writing well. A fear of failure. This I can agree with, because during those five years I was writing, but each word I squeezed out of my pen was so wrapped up in anxiety and doubt that my stories couldn’t stand up on their own. Every word on the page was painfully and laboriously extracted from my brain.
So maybe writer’s block comes in different varieties. My variety centered on a fear of writing badly – a fear of writing badly that caused me to write badly (paradoxically). To avoid this, Dufresne assures us that a good first draft is a poor draft because you haven’t taken risks. And Berkum urges, “Deliberately write badly, but write.”
And you know what? Allowing yourself to write badly helps.
If you’ve got writer’s block right now, check out The Lie That Tells a Truth, Chapter 3. There are some great suggestions in there. Or you can check out Scott Berkum’s post, “Writing Hacks, Part 1.”
Your turn – do you think writer’s block exists?