Perfect 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)
I am a fan of Robert Olen Butler. I’ve recommended From Where You Dream and the dreamstorming method he describes there to a LOT of students and coaching clients. I also warn them to read with a grain of salt because in addition to the outstanding insight and advice Butler provides, he also offers occasional examples of disturbing literary snobbery.
In addition to dismissing all genre writing as beneath a true literary 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.”
I object to Butler’s assumption for many reasons, not the least of which is 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 resistance.
Then there’s the fact that this sort of “block” could more accurately be identified as the Incubation stage of the creative process.
But most objectionable is the elitism behind the idea that only certain writers get writer’s block. 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.
According to other writers, writer’s block is an excuse used by self-indulgent, lazy, unoriginal writers who don’t have what it takes. “Real writers” push through.
The argument that “I’ve never been blocked; I don’t know any real writers who’ve been blocked, therefore there is no such thing as writer’s block,” is equivalent to “I’ve never had polio and no one I know had polio, therefore polio doesn’t exist.”
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 “waiting for inspiration.” Sadly some 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 other forms of writer’s resistance. There is no need to endure it as a badge of honor or to hide it in shame. There is only the need to find your way around it.