Writer’s Block

Agoraphobe Meets Mountain
Spencer Finnley / Foter

What about writer’s block?

I get asked this a hundred different times, in a hundred different ways. And since the old blog post was lost in the recent hacker attack (*sigh*) I might as well make a new one, right? So let’s get to it.

I do not believe in writer’s block.

There is fear, and laziness, and refusal to submit to the story. Pain and insecurity and just plain not wanting to write, but not a block. A block–some Magical Thing What Stops You From Writing That Is Out Of Your Control–does not exist. As Julia Cameron once pointed out, you say “I’m blocked, I have writer’s block” and you get tea, cookies, and sympathy (especially among those invested more in talking about writing than actually doing it); you say “I just don’t want to write” or “I’m afraid to” and the sympathy is much, much less.

* Fear. This is no Sunday-school picnic. Writing is difficult work, and emotionally dangerous on any number of levels. Plenty of good writing requires you to lay bare the things you fear, to be vulnerable so you can connect with your reader. Other parts of the submissions and revision process seem engineered to turn you into a quivering wreck of exposed nerves and twitching flayed meat. So much about writing strikes right for the jugular, including bad reviews and Speshul Snowflakes. There is no way around it.

* Pain. Like any art, writing will dredge up some very personal agony. Plus, it hits deeply-held human pains, like isolation, rejection, being laughed at, need I go on? Nobody likes pain. (It hurts! *snork*) It only makes sense to strenuously avoid it. It takes some nailing of the colours to the mast to plunge straight into the heart of the thorn patch.

* Laziness. Oh, come on. You know this one. Writing is work. Attaching your ass to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard is difficult when there’s so many other shiny things around. Like, you know, the Internet. Or Civ 5. (Guilty. I am guilty, I know.) Or even, sometimes, laundry. I’ve used housework as avoidance before, telling myself I needed time to think about the next plot point, when in fact I just was too goddamn lazy to sit down and write.

* Other. The story wants to go one way, but you’re emotionally invested in going another. (Hint: the story will win every time.) A physical infirmity, real or imagined, gets in the way. An insidious malaise grips you because you require silence and the incense-smoke from three braziers to produce thine Great Werke. You mistake promo and marketing work for effort spent actually producing content to promote/market. One of your writing group is a master at crazymaking and hijacks the meetings in order to poison your well. So on, so forth, ad nauseum.

These troubles usually come not in single spies, but in battalions. Each one is bad enough, but a combination can make you question your sanity and your own existence–that is, if you haven’t been doing so already, given that you’re attempting this writing gig. They’re intense, they’re horrible, they’re universal.

None of them are a reason not to write.

You think you have writer’s block, oh precious one? Here’s a cure: Sit down, and write (or type) “I don’t know what to write” one hundred times. Then do it again. And again. When you get bored of it, go back to your work in progress or start something new. Doing this gives you and the goddamn Muse the clearest possible message that you are committed to this monkeypoo-flinging Festivus thing. Here’s another: Do it every day. Get into the habit of sitting your ass down on a daily basis and committing an act or two of writing. Get a kitchen timer, set it for fifteen minutes, and go. Do it again. There, you’ve done a half hour of writing. Even five minutes of writing is better than none. And another: Get a deadline. Deadlines concentrate the mind wonderfully.

All those solutions hinge on one simple thing: making writing a priority. If it is important to you, you will find a way. You find time to wander around the Internet, you find time to watch telly, you find time to do all sorts of things. Time does not magically appear for writing. Like any relationship, your love affair with the written word takes work and a willingness to pay attention and make it important.

Not to mention that your chances of getting paid go up exponentially the more time you spend getting serious about what writers do, which is (newsflash) write.

Got it? Good. Now go kick some pen-and-ink ass.

Over and out.

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Wolf Lahti
Wolf Lahti

I agree that much of the time, what people call writer’s block is one form of another of procrastination, but to treat it so dismissively is an insult to those with various neurological or psychological issues that genuinely interfere with producing words on the page. When you establish a regular writing time and maintain butt in chair for an hour or more each and every day for a week, month, or year and still produce nothing, how can one say this is not writer’s block?


I find it difficult to believe that one could “establish a regular writing time and maintain butt in chair for an hour or more each and every day for a week, month, or year and still produce nothing.” It seems unlikely that people would spend that kind of effort for very long and for no return.


I agree with Lili. Additionally, there is a difference between writer’s block and the inability to write due to “various neurological or psychological issues.” If such a person is in the middle of a panic attack or seizure and cannot write at that time, that is NOT writer’s block. She isn’t slamming people with conditions that make writing more difficult. She’s explaining her opinion on one of the greatest of writing myths.

E. Anne Knight
E. Anne Knight

I needed this today. No, really. I needed this reminder. Now to slog back in and figure out how to get this scene out of my brain and onto the screen. Is it bad that I’m staring back at a female werewolf and not entirely sure what to do with her? *grabs wolf and drags out*

Kate Sterling
Kate Sterling

Sigh… currently suffering from a combo of fear/laziness/other. Thanks for the reminder.

And oh, yeah. I love your books.