What is writer’s block?

Try not to say that word too loudy. You’ll summon the babaduk or the baba yaga or Babar the Elephant or something.

I recently joined a couple Facebook writers groups, just for the emotional support and encouragement of this tortured existence I have chosen. One of the questions someone posited was “What is writer’s block?”

A few people offered their interpretations, and a few unsympathetic people (who have obviously never experienced it) told everyone it doesn’t exist. They made it sound like an excuse and offered up the old cliche of “Writers write, dammit!”

God I hate that expression. It’s so oversimplified. It’s as stupid as saying “Fish fish!” or “Birds bird!” Actually those would be a little bit more in-depth. It’s a little more like “Fish swim, dammit!” because if you are a fish, you do more than just swim, right? You eat bugs, you jump out of the lake, you do more than just one singular action. So why is a fish not limited to just one aspect of a relatively simple existence? Why then are writers boiled down to just one thing: writing?

This is what writing is.

Writing is a method of expression, taking a concept and putting it into a medium for others to experience. Something happens in your life, or you heard about something that happened, and so you take that information and you mix it together with your own thoughts and feelings and then you plaster it on the page in such a way that closely resembles your interpretation, but allows others to find their own interpretation as well. Writing and reading are interactive.

I wish they had a different word for it sometimes, because you wouldn’t tell a musician that they music, would you? No. They play. Music comes from Muse. So they are essentially Playing with the Muse. Sounds fun, right? It’s so friggin’ fun!

Writers don’t just write. They are always watching, listening, thinking, experiencing. Anyone who just “writes” is called a typist.

If you are blocked, it’s probably just Resistance (shout out to Steven Pressfield). Or it could just be that moment where your brain needs to stop producing and start processing.

Writer’s block could also just be another name for getting in our own way. We freeze when we think “Nobody wants this. Nobody will read this…” or if we’ve had some success “This won’t be as good as the last time. I just got lucky. Everyone will see I’m a fraud.” Writer’s block is a time when we can fill our buckets with something else. More grist for the mill.

Writer’s block in this way isn’t fun. It’s Fear. When was the last time you ever played when you were terrified?

Use it as a time to grow as a writer. Writing is sometimes just being in the moment and letting our minds wander. It’s not our wordcounts, it’s not our number of copies sold, it’s not reviews. Writing is a way to translate our experiences into an artistic media: print. If you aren’t “writing” you aren’t necessarily blocked. It might mean you are a writer and not just a typist.

There are writers who have written something, stopped writing, dug ditches for ten years, come back to their manuscript and finished the bastard. Did they ever stop being a writer because they weren’t typing something? No. Some of us go to the kitchen and each Cookie Butter (thank God for Trader Joe’s), or take a walk for our breaks. And some go on an arctic expedition and fight polar bears and shit.

There are true writers who have never been published. And I’m sure there are writers right now living in the hills of Appalachia or the savanahs of Africa who can’t read or make letters that are genuine writers. They just haven’t had access to the tools to do what their brains are wired to do. They probably tell a good yarn around the fire though.

A lot of writing is just thinking, and expressing those thoughts, through a lens of observation and experience. If you are blocked, it just means the pressure is going in another direction. Hence “blocked.” Direct that creative power into other things. Research. Hobbies. Staring into the Void. Dark magic. Personal hygiene. Being really into World War II. Whatever you want!

There could be a moment when you have That Moment and you stop everything you are doing, pull off to the side of the road and start writing Your Book on the back of junk mail and CVS receipts stuffed under the seat.

You’ve really been writing the whole time.

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