In Defense of Writer’s Block
I wrote this post originally for my personal writing blog, but I wanted to adapt it for this site too, because I think this is such an important topic.
I’ve noticed that writers tend to divide into two groups on the topic of writer’s block. Either they empathize with someone struggling with writer’s block, or they harshly tell them it’s not real and they should get over it. And it’s not even writers, perhaps. Lots of non-writers tend to sneer at the concept of writer’s block as some silly excuse for being blocked on the Great Creative Muse.
It’s become a hot-button issue and for whatever reason, people seem to get really vicious about it. Well, this blog on writing just wouldn’t be respectable if I didn’t take on this topic… so here goes.
We’ve all encountered them. The people who sniff haughtily and throw their noses into the air when a writer mentions having “writer’s block.”
It’s like those people who see a television and do this:
YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS. Don’t play.
I get frustrated when I encounter those who tell other writers that writer’s block is not real, because every writer has fallen prey to it… if we’re all on the same page on what writer’s block is.
To me, writer’s block is simple. It’s not knowing what comes next, whether that be events or development in your current story, or what project you’re writing next. This happens to EVERY WRITER, so don’t believe people who claim to be above it. Every single person who’s ever written a word hits a point, however long or brief it may be, where he or she isn’t sure of how to proceed. That, my friends, is 100% acceptable.
Now, let’s talk about what writer’s block is not. Writer’s block is not some overwhelming existential crisis of being in which you are paralyzed creatively and cannot possibly, for the life of you, even to save the planet Earth, write. It is also not a place where you have exhausted your creativity, so you sit and eat Doritos and stare at your computer for hour after hour after hour.
Your creativity will never be spent, no matter how many projects you complete. While you can and should develop your writing craft as a discipline and a habit, I don’t believe that creativity can be treated the same way. You will not be inspired every second of your writing life. You will not, day after day, run to your computer and crank out 5,000 words in a frenzy of motivated inspiration. That doesn’t mean you’re “blocked.”
I believe that this grander idea of writer’s block is just a formulation of the malaise that, once again, all writers feel. Sometimes we just don’t want to write. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why that’s such a terrible thing to say. Is there anything besides breathing that you want to do all the time? Probably not.
Writer’s block is a natural part of the writing process. Even if you are a strict follower of an outline which you meticulously fashioned, chances are you’ll hit a point in the story where it seems to go somewhere else. You don’t know what to do next, and suddenly there it is, Writer’s Block, sitting on your shoulder.
You are creating worlds and stories and characters. They’re new. Of course you’ll reach a point where you question what’s happening! You are learning about these characters and their stories as you’re writing them, and you should never be ashamed of reaching a point where you don’t know what happens next.
Just don’t let those momentary “what comes after this” moments stop your writing. Power through those periods until you’re back at a point where you do know what’s happening. You can always go back and fill in holes.
I have about half a dozen novels written between age 12 and now that are unfinished because I was blocked on what happened next. I couldn’t figure the story out, so I just abandoned them. It was the worst thing I could have done.
You will never get over the writer’s block of not knowing what happens if you let your book sit. Plot problems will not solve themselves. Your story will never write itself. And the only way to get over the not knowing is to keep writing the story.
Writing when you have writer’s block is like driving at night. You can only see the tiniest bit ahead of you. But if you pull off on the shoulder and sit there, you’ll only ever see that tiny bit. You have to keep in motion to discover what’s in front of you. If you keep moving, I promise that you’ll get over the writer’s block. If you keep writing, you’ll figure out what happens next.
So if you are suffering from writer’s block, I empathize with you. It’s frustrating to not be sure what comes next. But I also encourage you to keep writing through the block — it never lasts for long.
Copyright © Teresa Morse 2015