Does Writer’s Block Exist?
Well, duh, say the writers among you. Of course it does; we’ve had it. I propose a contrarian view. Any practice that demands continual creativity is likely to have dry spells as well as fertile ones. Don’t composers, philosophers, scientists, preachers, comedians, and cartoonists have times fresh ideas won’t come? Chefs known for culinary innovation, teachers or parents in search of new ways to capture a child’s interest—don’t they sometimes run dry? Are writers any different?
Yes, a writer may stare at a blank page and go blank. It can last an afternoon or five years. It can result from over-analysis, stress, perfectionism, trying to live up to previous success, fear of critical reviews, fatigue, distraction, or the inevitable ebb and flow of life. Of the two dozen recommended antidotes I’ve seen, most boil down to two: keep plugging, or take a break.
Maybe giving a name to creative dry spells magnifies their power. The mystique of the tortured writer paralyzed by writer’s block doesn’t help much but the ego. At least I suffer for my art. There’s less hubris in saying, I haven’t been writing much lately. It states a fact, not a condition. Putting less weight on the matter frees you to consider whether it’s a problem or just part of the ebb and flow of life.
4/23/2018 09:21:39 am
Yes. The causes are as varied as each individual creative, and even then I suppose we can have a few different kinds crop up now and then. It might be more alarming if your JOB is writing.
If your job IS writing, my experience suggests it depends whether the job also shapes what you're supposed to write about or leaves it wide open. Most of my assignments have been on particular topics, and even in dry spells I can do something. But when it was, "Write an engaging short story, 700 words, fourth grade reading level," going blank was alarming because I had nothing concrete to start with, only the expectation that it was supposed to engage fourth graders.
4/23/2018 11:43:38 am
Precisely how it is for me with my design work. If I have some puzzle pieces to put on the virtual page, then I can start to move them around and get inspiration, figuring out what is most important and less important. My job is then merely to help the reader in a very transparent way to understand what I consider to be someone ELSE's THING, if you know what I mean. Product, issue, words.
Lisa, yes, that rings true for me. I used to say I'm a lot better at solving puzzles that at being creative. (Even down to, I'd rather plan a dinner dish or menu from the oddities in the house than think what to make with no constraints.) The only reason I don't still say it much is that my understanding of what's a puzzle and what's creative has changed, not that I don't still find it easier to start by moving puzzle pieces around.
Rebecca, this sounds like absolutely the way to go. The inner critic can come back at a later stage if you need it, to polish something that's already there, but an inner critic and a blank page rarely combine well. My blog posts almost all emerge from my journaling. My fiction or polio history, not so much, but when they bump up against a wall I go back to the lined pad, turn off the editor, and ramble.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.