About the Post

Author Information

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

billy joelCome on Virginia Woolf, don’t make me wait,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 Comments on “Only the Good Get Blocked”

  1. Joel D Canfield August 20, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Not a badge of honor. Indeed.

    We seem to love the artistic stereotypes so much that when an artist is happy and productive, somebody will always assume something is wrong. It may even be the artist doing the assuming.

    This is the equivalent of a perfectly healthy person rushing to the emergency room because they feel no pain.

    Artists can be happy and hardworking. Like anyone else, the work can flow like a river, then hit a dam. It happens in landscaping and medicine, not just art.

    When I was in landscaping, we didn’t sit around talking about how hard the ground was and how sweaty we got in order to impress other landscapers or potential clients.

    We just showed them the pictures of the beautiful thing we’d created.


    • rosannebane August 21, 2014 at 9:25 am #

      Thanks Joel. AND sometimes it is helpful to talk with other pros about the challenges you’re facing because they might have a solution you haven’t thought of yet. There’s a big difference between “talking shop” and colluding to build a “isn’t-this-crappy-pile.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: