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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.

Are You Too Smart for Writer’s Block?


dejected canstockphoto2065099 (2)Writer’s block as I define it – a persistent paralysis of wanting and needing to write but being unable to eke out the words – is rare.

Blocked writers are dogged in their pursuit. They will endure hours of the mental agony of being unable to do what they most want to do, believing they ought to be able to do it, and wondering what is wrong with them that they can’t.

In Around the Writer’s Block, I write, “…most writers either procrastinate or distract ourselves away from our writing to keep ourselves unaware that we do not or cannot write the way we want to. We’re intelligent human beings, why wouldn’t we want to do what we can to avoid that painful awareness?”

Smart or Cowardly?

I’m not sure what to call the quality needed to endure writer’s block – fortitude, courage, stupidity. Whatever it is, I don’t have it. I am not willing to sit in agony for my art.

I am willing to be uncomfortable. I’ve learned from my movement therapist and other body workers that discomfort is the tuition for healing and strengthening my body. The same is true in writing; challenging ourselves to show up and develop as writers is uncomfortable at times. I’ll do discomfort, but I’m not willing to endure pain that doesn’t take me anywhere.

Writer’s block as I define it doesn’t offer change. In fact, writers who persist in staring at the blank page or blinking cursor for long periods of time can hypnotize themselves into creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

They inadvertently train themselves to sit down and not write. The longer they sit there not writing and the more often they sit there not writing, the more entrenched the habit of not writing becomes. The memory of being blocked creates anxiety that only perpetuates the block.

The good news, especially good news if you recognize you have what it takes to be a blocked writer, is that blocked writers can change that habit and retrain their brains.

Too Smart for Our Own Good?

Just one of the ways resistance can show up...

Just one of the ways resistance can show up…

But let’s not congratulate ourselves on being too smart to get blocked too soon. Block is rare, but resistance is common.

If you’re blocked, you know it. You might not recognize when you’re resistant, which can show up as procrastination, distracting yourself, taking care of ten other things you tell yourself you must do before you start writing, perfectionism, postponing, self-sabotage, excessive criticism, overscheduling or finding some other way to avoid getting started.

Resistance unrecognized persists. You’re not in agony, but you’re not getting any more on the page than a blocked writer.

Learn to recognize your resistance so you can resolve it. Pay attention to what you do before you get around to writing. What form of resistance shows up most often for you? How do you know you’re resistant? What could you do to notice resistance sooner?

For more information about the different forms of resistance and how to move through resistance and even through writer’s block, you can:

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