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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Only the Good Get Blocked


Come on Virginia Woolf, don’t make me wait,

Perfectionist writers start much too late.

I’d rather laugh with the hacks than languish with the saints,

To the hacks, fans have flocked,

You know that only the good get blocked.

(Apologies to Billy Joel)

Where did that come from? Skeptics might suggest that after nearly two years of posting at least one blog a week on the topic of writer’s resistance, I’ve run out of ideas. To which, I reply with the popular, if not terribly original, retort of “Hah!”

It actually comes Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream. Butler offers a lot of outstanding insight and advice in From Where You Dream, but he also offers examples of disturbing literary snobbery. In addition to dismissing all genre writing as beneath a true literay artist (excuse me Mr. Butler, but your novel My Spaceman looks an awful lot like science fiction to me), he writes “Bad writers never get blocked… I think most writers who get blocked do so because some important part of them knows that they’ve got to get to the unconscious. But they’re not getting there… writer’s block of that sort is the most common kind among writers who have any talent.”

Beyond the fact that what Butler calls “blocked” here can more accurately be labeled “incubation,” I object to Butler’s assumption for other reasons, not the least of which is concern about the negative impact this can have on impressionable, young writers who might, in an attempt to be cool, experiment with procrastination. As many of us know through painful, personal experience, procrastination is a gateway drug to hard-core writer’s block.

(Sorry – I’ve been reading a lot of Dave Berry lately and the urge to write sarcastic humor is leaking out. Which is bad I know because sarcasm can lead to skepticism and skepticism, as many of us know through painful, personal experience, is the gateway to hard-core cynicism.)

The idea that only certain writers get writer’s block is snobbery and classism. In Butler’s version, only good writers have the taste to not impose bad writing on the world; they’d rather selflessly endure the pain of writer’s block than inflict imperfection on their readers. In other versions, only bad (self-indulgent, lazy, unoriginal) writers allow themselves to get blocked while “real writers” push through.

The truth is that all writers experience some form of resistance at some time. Some of us call it writer’s block, some of us call it something else, and some, sadly don’t realize how natural it is to feel this resistance and end up calling it a day on the hope of being a writer.

There is nothing inherently noble – or damning – in being blocked or feeling resistance. There is no need to endure it as a badge of honor or for the sake of others or to hide it in shame. There is only the need to find your way around it.

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