Writing Blocks: Myth or Reality?

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to writing blocks: they are a real problem for writers or they’re just an excuse for laziness.

Some people hold that writing blocks don’t exist: as long as you sit your butt on on a chair and type, you can’t be blocked. Others believe (and have described at long length, like Keith Hjortshoj in his fascinating Understanding Writing Blocks) that writing blocks do happen and can be difficult to surmount even with all the freewriting techniques in the world.

Myths about writing

Some people believe silly things about writing, like:

  • It’s strictly a mental activity
  • Good writers have a special, innate talent
  • Writing is a product, the words on the page

Have you ever tried to write using just your mind? Hard, isn’t it? Until machines can read our thoughts, you’ll probably never be able to write without some kind of physical action like using a pencil or typing on a keyboard. Therefore it cannot be exclusively a mental activity. Writing blocks are often described as physical obstacles to getting writing done, not mental ones.

Ask a published writer if he or she feels like they have an innate talent. They’ll most likely tell you no. Writing, like any other activity, requires practice to do well. Style isn’t something that appears with the first word you ever write but rather after thousands and thousands of words. If you want to be a good writer, just write.

As a reader, yes, writing is a product, the published, finished page that you hold in your hand or look at on your screen. However, for the writer, writing is a completely different animal: it’s a process (very long and difficult). Approach writing as you would learning a new dance routine or any new hobby: practice makes perfect. Nobody expects you to do it perfectly on your first try.

Blocks DO happen–just rarely

It’s hard to get blocked on a tweet, an email or a blog post. The shorter it is the easier it is to get through. However, when people are faced with longer, bigger tasks (like an ebook, a novel, a dissertation…) writing blocks can actually appear.

Writing blocks are rare, but they are a crippling problem for those who suffer from them. I personally believe that they do exist, just less often than you think.

What to do in case of “block”

  • If you just run out of ideas, take a break and do something else. You’re not blocked because you’ve run out of things to say.
  • Not writing is not necessarily being blocked. Sometimes, forcing yourself to sit down and write, no matter what it is, can unlock the creative processes in your mind.
  • In the higher levels of academia, there’s this thing that happens when you can’t face your writing task: you just do more research. Reading more books and articles won’t make it easier to get started. It’ll actually make it harder as you’ll have more information to deal with. Just write what you know for now; you can always change it later.

Have you ever suffered from writing blocks? What do you do when you feel blocked?

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2 Comments

Filed under Thoughts, Writing

2 responses to “Writing Blocks: Myth or Reality?

  1. I think writing a large project can induce anxiety and panic, because of the organizational thinking required, and that produces results that look like writer’s block. Just like simple procrastination is largely about anxiety too.

  2. Yes, I certainly experience periods–sometimes days, sometimes weeks–when I cannot for the life of me write a sentence, never mind a blog post or essay.

    There are no tricks that will get things rolling again. It’s a terrifying feeling, because, during these times, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to string together another paragraph … at least one worth sharing.

    People who accuse blocked writers of malingering are lucky. I’d never wish the affliction on another writer.

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