Is Writer’s Block Real?

As you read this, I am on the road to Left Coast Crime. I’m tagging along with my buddy Brett Battles and am not officially attending, so you’ll find me wandering around the hotel bar or lobby, probably looking a bit lost. If you’re attending and you see me, please either hand me a dollar or buy me a donut. I may even have time to chat.

So, with that said, I won’t be around to respond to today’s post, but I invite you to fill the comments with some lively conversation in my absence.

Today’s topic is writer’s block, which I’m sure has been discussed many times here at the Kill Zone. But a couple weeks ago, I offered my take on the subject on everybody’s favorite time-suck, Facebook, and this is what I said:

If you haven’t noticed, I’m extremely opinionated. Some might call it a fault. I think it simply means I have convictions. But I’m perfectly willing to change my opinion if someone can present me with compelling evidence to the contrary.

So sometimes my opinions piss people off. Today I expressed this opinion and it ruffled some feathers:

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s an invention. It’s not a reason, it’s an excuse.

When challenged, I responded thusly:

“So do we have lawyer’s block or doctor’s block or mechanic’s block or accountant’s block? People in all of these professions experience bad days, they all get burned out, they all get stuck at times, but do they take the unprofessional route and stop what they’re doing? No. Unless they’ve had a complete breakdown (which is something else entirely), they keep doing their jobs.

There’s nothing special about being a writer. It’s a job. One I, and many of my friends, have been doing for more than a couple dozen years. None of us can AFFORD to get “blocked.” We write every day, seven days a week, no matter what.

Writer’s block is not a mental condition.

Stress, anxiety, etc.—real conditions that cause real problems—are good reasons for a writer, or any of the above professions, to stop working. But that’s not writer’s block, so let’s not pretend it is.

Nor is getting stuck.

Getting stuck is a natural part of the process, not a “block.” We get stuck simply because we haven’t thought our story—or our characters—through. Once we do, we get unstuck. It happens with nearly every story.

Sorry if I’m unsympathetic. But to my mind, you either do the job or you quit.

As for inspiration, if you need to wait for it in order to work, you might as well give it up.”

Now, you can imagine the response I got. Some positive, but one from a writer friend, who also happens to be a doctor, said I didn’t know what I was talking about. That writer’s block is a very real condition.

I respect this man’s opinion and value him as a friend, so I didn’t want to get too far into it with him. But my response to him was that there are certainly conditions that people suffer from—depression, anxiety, etc.—that can lead to writer’s block, but the block itself is merely a symptom of underlying problems. Unless you’re suffering from a mentally or physically debilitating disease, if you’re a writer, you should be writing. No excuses. So maybe the problem is defining what “writer’s block” is. How ever you define your writer’s block, if you truly do suffer from a lack of creative ideas and your “normal flow” seems to be ebbing you could have a look into consuming CBD products from sites such as cbdoilsuk.com as CBD in some users has been reported to increase their creativity and could help you get that “flow” back.

Since I don’t believe in it, however, I have a hard time defining it, but I can tell you what it isn’t.

If you are having problems with a story, if you’re stalled, if you’re staring at a blank page and nothing is coming that day, that’s not being blocked. That’s merely a setback. We all have them. We hit walls, we write ourselves into corners, we figure out solutions, and if we’re professionals, we press on.

And that’s true of anyone in any profession. If you want to get paid, you get to work.

Hell, I’m working right now and I’m NOT getting paid for it. And I had absolutely no idea what I’d be writing about today, but I sat down and did it anyway. As I’ve said, I can’t afford to be “blocked.”

Anyway, those are my rather inelegant and somewhat gruff—and yes, insensitive—views on the subject. Now, please, discuss amongst yourselves.

It’s quite possible it’s true what they say about me and I am crazy.

Now, does anyone have a donut?

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12 thoughts on “Is Writer’s Block Real?

  1. I fully agree. There is no writer’s block. It’s just the way our brains try to find an excuse to procrastinate and not do what they are called to do. Complaining is so comfortable!
    This sentence, “And that’s true of anyone in any profession. If you want to get paid, you get to work.” is simply brilliant and to the point.
    And to my opinion very elegant.
    Thank you for this post, Robert! I needed it, as all beings capable of procrastination do. 🙂

  2. I’m trying to think of something to write here, but I can’t…

    Oh, all right. There are various forms of getting stuck and various ways to deal with it. One way is with the “novel journal.” I got this idea from Sue Grafton. She does this with each book (one way not to get writer’s block is to get a contract to do a twenty-six book series based on the alphabet). She writes in this journal first thing. She talks to herself about the book. It means she always has something to write.

    Sometimes, just changing locations can work, too. Go to a coffee place, or take a ride on a bus or train.

    Get a pocket dictionary. Open it at random and find a noun. Then write anything that comes to your mind, based on that noun. Many times that clears the “blockage” and you start creative flow again.

    Or you can hand Browne a dollar and start writing about him.

  3. And the quote delivered to my inbox today was:

    “The worst form of procrastination is reading a procrastination quote, feeling the guilt and not doing anything about it.” — Author Unknown

    ROTFL!!!!!

  4. Thanks for your post! When I compare some of your examples to my life, I have to agree with what is preventing me from getting the writing done. That frees me from writers block now I need to work on what’s keeping me from writing.

  5. I’m with you. Writer’s block is what you make it, and you do need to think of writing as a job that you approach with consistency and discipline. But I think there is also a level deeper than “writer’s block” that is quite real, a sort of paralysis that comes from self-doubt and maybe negative experiences that makes you despair and want to give up. Or hell, maybe you’re just tired. Or you’ve genuinely run out of things to say.

    There is no shame in NOT writing. If you are okay with that inside. But that comes from a different place than the plain old old bugaboo we call writer’s block. We all can’t be Joyce Carol Oates. Some of us are Harper Lees who maybe have one really good (or great?) book to give to the world. And most of us fall in that huge continuum between.

  6. I have to concur as well — with pretty much everything that you discussed here. I’m an artist, and some days are great, and some days are awful. It’s no different if you’re a singer, or a graphics designer, or anyone in the creative field. While there is no absolute formula in creativity, there are basic rules and foundations that can be followed through in times of “writer’s block.” I used to call it writer’s block, but now I just call it for what it is: feeling lazy or unmotivated, distracted, need to do more research, or whatever it is that’s truly inhibiting the writing. “Writer’s block” is a blanket term that makes us feel a little bit better for feeling stuck. But like any problem that’s given a title, you learn to analyze it and work through it, not throw your hands up and give in.

    Great post, as always!

  7. Here’s my donut for the day. Of course we all get busy and distracted, and when our work piles up and gets complicated we hesitate, perhaps overwhelmed, or just tired.

    But with writing I think there’s another wrinkle. Developing and writing – which are different phases of the process – a story that works is really hard. I mean Hard. You know that as well as anyone, and I think your view on Writers Block (also capitalized) may just fold into mine. Which is…

    We begin our stories with a flurry of passion and energy. That first idea, man, it’s killer. Comes easy. And then we hit a wall, when suddenly it is no longer easy. Things don’t fit like we thought. Or flow like we thought. What made sense before no longer makes enough sense. What we thought would “be there when I needed it” (we all do that, right?) isn’t there, leaving us waiting at the creative curb.

    What we hoped was a story that would virtually write itself, because that’s how solid the idea seemed, suddenly locks up, frozen, or seemingly dead. And we don’t have an immediate fix. It’s not like you can just start writing, waiting for the light to go on… it’s still dark in there.

    And so, we tell ourselves it’s not the story’s fault. Not even our fault. It’s that damn Writers’s Block again. Which allows us to become the victim here, not the author without the whole story yet, without the answers. Thing is, we don’t really feel better with that excuse, because in our heart we know that what isn’t working is because of what we have or haven’t done to it.

    Of course there may be occasions when your Doctor friend’s version kicks in, but I’m pretty sure WB happens when a story is kicking our ass and there’s no fix on the horizon. It’s depressing. Soul sucking. It’s the first domino in a series of psychological consequences that are indeed defensible. But consider this: I’ve never met anyone who is blocked when the story is clear and urgent in their minds. It only happens when they don’t know what to write next. Who’s fault is that? Some psychological condition? I don’t think so.

    We get to remain the victim, until we realize we are alone with the story and its resistance, and it’ll die unless we save it. Thinking outside the box, and doing it INSIDE the box of story craft, is the only way out of this mess. The story will wait for you. But you have to attack it, not wait for it to summon you, because the solution has arrived without your participation.

  8. But…but…but…without writer’s block as my crutch, I’ll have to lay all my cards on the Facebook table, initiate open-ended searches for writing contests to enter, scour blogs for even more tips on how to blog, maybe even copy/paste recipies from Delish onto Word documents and dutifully hide them in files to which I’ll never return. No, writer’s block is my go-to answer for all dreams unfulfilled and I’ll hold them close, thank you very much. Now go away, I have to spend a couple of hours editing chapter 1 for the eleventh time.

  9. When readers ask me how I deal with writer’s block, I’m blocked. I’ve never had writer’s block. Yes, my husband is a psychiatrist and I’m sure he’s dealt with depressed writers (or other artists) who are blocked. He’s also dealt with people with severe OCD. They too are blocked because everything has to be perfect. BTW, depressed people are blocked by everything, not just writing.

    So, take a normal, healthy writer on a typical day… nope, not blocked, just lazy. And some days it’s okay to be lazy.

  10. I’ve mailed a doughnut – hope it gets there in time.

    I use a two-phase technique (sounds very high-tech) when I get stuck. The first is accepting that the next words I write are going to be crap. The second is to use chronology. Something is going to happen to the character in the next sixty seconds. So I describe it – even if it’s taking out the garbage. Then the next sixty seconds and so forth.

    James’s suggestion of getting on a train or bus is excellent. I go for a drive – anywhere at all – just so I’m moving. Clears away some of the cobwebs.

  11. For me, writer’s block is a chronic issue. I get it. But, I know how to combat it. I change environments, I try new things, and I people watch for ideas. My biggest problem is how to move stories along. I write scenes with people and with environments and I absolutely love these scenes…slices of life. I have absolutely no way to move beyond when I’m done with a slice of life scene…that’s where my writer’s block always hits me! 🙁

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