Does writer’s block really exist?

Trust Calvin to come up with a new angle on writer’s block…

As a fellow writer friend of mine likes to say, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Why? Because real writers have deadlines.

That may be oversimplifying the matter a bit, especially for the creative types who feel they need the right place and time — not to mention subject matter — to inspire their latest opus, but I still think he has a point. Whether you’re a full-time writer or a hobbyist, the real difference between the amateurs and the pros is that professional writers do have deadlines. Sometimes they are given out by editors, with threats and swearing, and sometimes you just have to make them up yourself.

The rest of the world usually calls these things “goals.”

Anyway, I sometimes ponder these cliché writing tips and chestnuts, mining for that ol’ nugget o’ truth. Another writer friend insists that writer’s block is real. “It’s conveniently located on my desk, so I can bang my head against it,” he says.

What do you think? Is writer’s block real, imaginary, a way writers like to torture themselves (and others), or something else entirely?

4 Responses to Does writer’s block really exist?

  1. I’m glad you kind of justified what your writer friend said about real writers having deadlines. I took umbrage with that as well as the inference that unless you have deadlines you cannot be a real writer. However, what defines a real writer, is, perhaps a separate blog post, but I think most that are dedicated to the art — lucky enough to have deadlines or not — would consider themselves no less significant.

    Back to the matter at hand, quite frankly I’m astounded that any ‘real’ writer should even say that there is no such thing as writer’s block; suggestive, at least to me, they have little or no idea what the term actually encompasses. If that’s the case, I suggest it be looked up, for this condition manifests itself in many forms; not just about the inability to get enough words out to meet a deadline; the worry would be if those words were significant.

    I personally, back when I was a complete amateur, used to say that I ‘d never suffered from writer’s block, but in a recent interview, found myself conceding that I felt embarrassed ever to have uttered such nonsense, because, indeed, I’ve suffered from it all along, and continue to — despite what’s been called a highly prolific writing ability.

    Well into my journey, no longer flirting with it, for eight years straight now, I’ve come to recognise that writer’s block has always presented itself (to me) as my work not being good enough, whereas other people would say it is. But then I’m a bit obsessive compulsive about being the best writer I can possibly be. I write every day, too much actually, struggle to overcome a very real addiction to it, and by comparison feel my work might sometimes be overly polished… if you like… which can then make the condition work the other way; perhaps overthinking in every direction possible; do I fit in? Is anyone interested in what I have to say? Are my words meaningful?

    The more I learn on this never-ending journey though, I think the more difficult writing becomes – at least in some ways – and so not just about meeting a word count if a writer’s like me; for one needs to strive to do it better all the time – and, incidentally, it’s that which I think many ‘real’ writers would agonize over — deadlines or not.

    I foresee that my writing block will always accompany me on my journey – but I’ve come to learn the psychology; I’m a person of many moods; what I might think is crap today, could be the best thing ever tomorrow. And so, the condition is a necessary evil as far as I’m concerned; I wouldn’t be without it.

  2. All writers know that on some golden mornings they are touched by the wand—are on intimate terms with poetry and cosmic truth. I have experienced those moments myself. Their lesson is simple: It’s a total illusion. And the danger in the illusion is that you will wait for those moments. Such is the horror of having to face the typewriter that you will spend all your time waiting. I am persuaded that most writers, like most shoemakers, are about as good one day as the next (a point which Trollope made), hangovers apart. The difference is the result of euphoria, alcohol, or imagination. The meaning is that one had better go to his or her typewriter every morning and stay there regardless of the seeming result. It will be much the same.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

  3. SP: This may be another topic altogether, but I do think that any writer who’s just writing aimlessly, without a specific goal/deadline in mind, is bound for failure. Sure, we all like to noodle around with words, just playing, and that has its place in writing practice as well. But when you sit down to write a novel you’d better have deadlines, otherwise that bright and shiny idea will just sit on your to do list until the apocalypse. Been there, done that. Hell, even if you break your deadlines, at least you know what prevented you from meeting them and can figure out how to set better/more achievable goals next time.

    I think my writer friend was mostly annoyed with the dilettantes who were always complaining to him that they had writer’s block in regard to blogging. These were typically mommy-bloggers who never really wanted to become Real Writers, but just thought it’d be fun to blog, and then got frustrated because they suddenly realized “Hey, no one really gives a damn about my mommy-blog.” So although his approach was prickly, I think he was actually trying to tell them to take their writing seriously by making their own deadlines (and an editorial calendar, and list of topics), instead of just playing around in their sandboxes and wondering why nobody was listening. Good advice for those that want to be seen as writers. Kind of like that old saw about writing every day.

    As far as picking the right words (rather than having no words to put on the page at all), I feel like that is more about studying craft than writer’s block. Hopefully the more we write, the more we improve. That may not always be the case, of course, but if we are perpetual students of Good Writing, eventually the words we choose will be closer to the right ones. Right?

  4. Pingback: The sound of deadlines | Buttontapper Press