Understanding That Thing Called “Writer’s Block”
Writer’s block is consistently challenged as not being a real thing. From podcasts to books, there are plenty who argue that what writers call writer’s block is nothing more than a figment of one’s imagination. But what is that thing that the writer is experiencing then? If not writer’s block, then what does one call it?
To say that it doesn’t exist is like saying that illnesses don’t exist. It’s a condition as real as a cold, although I would say that it is much more psychosomatic— an element of the mind and not like a virus infecting the cells. It’s not an actual physical ailment, and one can maybe argue that it isn’t some psychological ailment either— or that it is an ailment at all. Categorization of the problem is difficult as the causes are random and user dependent.
Writer’s block occurs when a writer (or really any creative person) cannot act upon their work. It’s more about motivation not matching with desire. It can be caused be anxiety, impostor syndrome, or one’s mind going blank as they attempt to act upon their creative project. Now just because the result— not being able to write (or feeling that way)— is caused by a specific problem, such as anxiety, writer’s block exists as the description of what it impacts. It feels like something is blocking the writer. That something just so happens to be the writer him or herself.
Of course it’s all in the head. Getting past it is a matter of doing the thing— by writing. If one puts pen to paper and writes what comes to mind, eventually the words flow. Because of that, there is that tendency to laugh at it, to call it a fake thing. Slapping words on paper isn’t a total solve though. For some, it was simply a matter of putting grease into the cogs that drive their writing and voila! they can write freely again. Others it helps for only a short time.
Think of it like a rusty handle for a faucet. A wrench can force the handle to turn if it doesn’t do so easily. The problem is that it doesn’t always loosen the handle to make it easier on each successive turn. Sometimes it can break the handle, so another approach may be needed.
One can find a cure for writer’s block by digging for the cause. Writing can indeed help that. (Again with the writing?) This time however, the focus needs to be internal. Journaling is a method here, writing with the specific intent of exploring the feelings and emotions behind writer’s block. As layers are peeled back, the causes for the block can be uncovered and then dealt with. If you want to go back to the faucet analogy, it’s akin to taking the faucet apart to fix all the parts. Therapy is another method that would help here. Whether talking or writing about it, the person suffering from it can begin to push beyond it.
This gets to the crux of why so many describe writer’s block as a fake thing: writing fixes it (or helps to fix it). In other words, doing the thing that is being blocked helps to do the thing that is being blocked. It sounds utterly preposterous when one thinks about it. And if one looks at it in that manner, one can come to the same conclusion many have: that it’s not real. That isn’t helpful though. Telling a hypochondriac that the symptoms they experience aren’t real doesn’t help. The problem is, writer’s block is more real than what the hypochondriac claims to be suffering from— the writer finds that they are unable to write for whatever the reason, as stated above. If it weren’t real, if it didn’t exist, what does one call it?
The argument here might come from the same place where it is argued about the existence of the muse. Some argue that they write when a mythical creature— the muse— visits them, giving them their ideas and motivation. It’s as though a spirit or demon might grip them and force their hand to hold the pen or hover over the keys. Or it is God. Lack of understanding drives these ways of looking at art. But what does it matter if one believes that the work comes from inside or from a spirit so long as the work is done? In fact, would having some connection, real or imagined, to the spiritual side of our lives be a bad thing? Reason in art only leads to the boring and bland. Art isn’t supposed to always make sense as often it is an exploration into areas we fail to understand. Should the ways that writers and artists describe how they feel in relation to their art always make sense then? Does sense preclude whether something exists or not?
Simply put, writer’s block is a thing. No matter the cause, the solution, or the claims, writers and other creative people sometimes experience something that is “blocking” them from producing art, or producing art that they feel is worthwhile. It shouldn’t need to be argued other than maybe saying that it is an odd ailment, or silly, but either way, it’s real. But there is a treatment and a cure.