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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.

Writer’s Block Is Rare, But Real

blocked writerIn a previous post, I invited you to share your definition of writer’s block. Here’s how I see it.

True writer’s block – the full-fledged aphasia and paralysis of wanting and needing to write, making yourself available to write, and consciously enduring the agony of not being able to eke out the words – is very real. Fortunately, it’s also rare.

Blocked writers are creatively constipated; no matter how long they sit there and how hard they try, nothing happens. But don’t congratulate yourself just because you’re not currently blocked. There are plenty of other ways to be “creatively irregular.”

In fact, I’m convinced that the only reason more writers aren’t blocked is simply because we don’t the courage and tenacity to endure the pain that long. We work very hard at staying unaware.

We quickly and repeatedly distract ourselves from the discomfort. We sit down to write, and tell ourselves “I’ll just take a minute to see if there’s any email (tweets, Facebook updates, voice mails or IM) I’ve to got to take care of before I start.”

Or we pop out of the chair to check the laundry, clean the kitchen, sort the mail or look for answers in the refrigerator. Then we wonder why we didn’t get to the writing.

too busyOr we procrastinate and keep our schedules so full we don’t have time to notice the pain of wanting to write but being unable to. We promise ourselves we’ll write just as soon as we get the kids off to school, walk the dog, edit the community newsletter we volunteered to work on, and take care of family members and friends who need our help.

We know we aren’t writing, but we promise ourselves it’ll get better or easier later. (Hint: it doesn’t get easier or better later. It just gets later, later.)

Or we force ourselves to do some writing-related busywork like editing the same section over and over and over, finding another source to interview/research, working on a project that doesn’t really challenge or satisfy us or reading yet another writing book. (I have nothing against writing books, but if all you do is read about writing, that’s busywork.)

All these ways to be unaware of writer’s block are forms of resistance (see pages 211-215 of Around the Writer’s Block for a comprehensive list of the forms of resistance and how to recognize them.)

tread_20060524Writer’s block is, fortunately, rare. Resistance is, unfortunately, common.

What’s unfortunate about having ways to avoid pain? It’s only human nature; fear makes us want to look away. But as the Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa said, “To be an artist means never to avert your eyes.”

Resistance stands between you and the writing you want to do. Unlike full-fledged writer’s block, you usually don’t see how often and how far resistance pushes you from your writing. You can’t solve a problem you prevent yourself from seeing.

What, specifically and in detail, keeps you away from the writing you want to do?

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4 Comments on “Writer’s Block Is Rare, But Real”

  1. Books & Art - Spirit & Soul - Lesley Fletcher December 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    We are all masters at finding diversions, waiting fo rthe right moment when in the back of our minds we know the right moment is now. I sometimes catch myself saying ‘Well I only have 3 hours to write’ 🙂 Distractions are another story – I have now set up my old lap-top to write. It is not near the Internet and I can sit it the most comfortable chair in the house. I think it is working!

    I had to come up with some new alternatives to avoid that averting you are talking about.


    • rosannebane December 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your suggestion and I’m glad that’s working for you. I’ve heard other writers mention disabling the internet.


  2. Joel D Canfield December 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    I’m a master of doing all the other important work on my desk so I can free up time to write.

    Of course, there’s a steady flow of “important work” which never dries up, and in case of drought, I know a good rain dance.

    The way I got the first draft of my latest mystery done was to create an inviolate writing schedule, announce it to my wife (meaning she couldn’t schedule client work during that time) and then consider how it would look if I made her do all the client work, but I didn’t do my writing.


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