“I have Writer’s Block”

Homeschooling momsicles:  This is a precious one.  Wildest one, settling into the acceptance that homeschooling still means work, tries to get out of writing a film review of a documentary she’s just watched.

“How are you doing?  How much have you written?” – “Nothing yet.  I have Writer’s Block.”

Writer’s Block!  Here comes the essential pretentiousness of “the creative”, or those who consider themselves so.

Imagine your builders, who are tasked (and paid per hour) to build your house, lounging under a tree for hours, wasting your paid-for time:  “We have Builder’s Block.”  Or your plumber, on the job at R500 per hour plus call-out, hanging around your garden smoking:  “Sorry, got Plumber’s Block.”  The orchestra sitting mute on stage while the audience gets impatient:  “Sorry, we can’t play, we have Musician’s Block.”  Or how about your chartered accountant not getting your tax return ready in time:  “Sorry, I had a case of Numbers Block.”  ‘scuse me?

How is it that writers imagine themselves to be the only ones of the creative (that will include architects, engineers and wedding dress designers) crowd who can lay claim to some mysterious “block”, needing “inspiration” to continue doing their, for want of a more illustrious word, job?

There was a glorious article in “The Daily Mash” that I linked to in the Book Club, about creative people and pretentiousness.  Perhaps I’m just a bit too “plat-vloers” to have much patience for that.  Violent battles about whether the staccati in a Bach piece were to be played on the string or off the string.  It is a point of interest for the student, but battles??  And the haughty way in which some soloists (and their elevated audience) treat ordinary people, nose-down, totally forgetting that they may not be the only one capable of playing that piece.

I’m trying to remember the reference now, was it Julia Cameron, or was she referencing another person, perhaps even Zig Ziglar, who said something to the effect of, “I don’t wait for inspiration; I move the spirit by sitting down and writing.  Inspiration follows.”

If anyone thought the process of constructing a story is a God-given process that just flows naturally and when it doesn’t, it’s because somehow the “receiving hole” got plugged up, they are in for a surprise.  A decent story lives; and it lives on real food.  (Try chocolate.  It works every time!)  It lives on what you put into it, and that depends what you put into you, in terms of fresh inspirations (experiences, go get them, Fluffy!), research (gee that can lead you places these days!), and observing people.  A decent story does not fall out of the sky.  Sometimes you have to be a bit of an engineer and sit and construct, instead of just inventing.  So you’ll be using both your right and left brain hemispheres (we should hope, otherwise you’d be laterally disabled).  And “Writer’s Block” is most likely one of three things:

  • A sign that maybe you’re bored with that story, because it wasn’t such a great one in the first place, or perhaps simply because you have moved on (let it go!)
  • a sign of tiredness  (go sleep or do something else!)
  • an excuse to try and avoid doing actual work on the story.

For me writing time is precious.  It has to be squished in between everything else (not just for me but, I’m sure, for countless writers!), I often have a bad conscience while writing because I’m avoiding doing something “useful” instead.  So writing time is laced with the delicious guilt of a semi-forbidden pleasure.  There’s no time for “block”.  If a story doesn’t work, it goes.

Those who truly write for a living (journalists, people who have to write up factual reports etc) know that when you’re paid for a job, there is no space for a luxury like “block”.  You do what you need to, and finis.  You have a certain amount of time to complete an article, and that’s it.  If writers, who mostly write because it gives them pleasure, could adopt the same attitude to their stories, there wouldn’t even be a word for Writer’s Block.  Think about it.

Food for thought:

The same could be applied for practicing an instrument.  If you approach your e.g. piano practice like a delicious forbidden pleasure, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll practice, and end up playing!  I guess the same could be said for many things…










19 thoughts on ““I have Writer’s Block”

  1. Brilliant, as usual, and all true. Of course, I do suffer from housework block every now and then but I never have any blocks with writing once I sit down to do it. Come to think of it, the same thing happens with housework. However, hard as I may try and no matter how excellent your advice is on this matter, I will never succeed in thinking of housework as a guilty pleasure. But you have given me an good idea for a blog post! Thanks and keep up the great work – where is chapter three of your fantasy tale? And don’t tell me you’re blocked or that the story’s no good!!! I can now see how people got addicted to Dickens’ serialized stories! I’m suffering……….

    • 😀 I must admit, I haven’t managed to think of housework as any kind of pleasure yet either, forbidden or otherwise.

      Chapter 3: Oh yes, and I think you’ll like it, but it isn’t going on the blogs at this time. That story is moving.

    • May well be. There’s a reason I’m not a holistic healer by profession 😉

      Depression: You’re preaching to the choir.

      However, I also professionally deal with excuses on a daily basis. “Ma’am, I really didn’t have time to practice this week. I had homework.” My response tends to be along the lines of, “well, you see, playing the violin takes a bit of sacrifice. The question you need to ask yourself is: Is it worth the sacrifice? Will I feel better if I don’t watch my favourite TV show and practice violin instead?”

      I want to ask writers the same: You write for a reason. It’s because it gives you personal satisfaction, and because you enjoy entertaining others. Now: Why is Writer’s Block a problem? There are millions of people who don’t write stories; it never occurs to them. They don’t have Writer’s Block, or if they do, they don’t even know it. You’re in fact the only one who will know if you have Writer’s Block. So if one can take meds or therapy for depression and actively seek to counteract it, why shouldn’t one try to do the same for Writer’s Block?

    • For the very simple reason that writing is in no way like assembling bricks into a wall or pipes into a plumbing system. I’m amazed I even have to say this. It’s not even anything like playing a violin. As for the homework/TV/violin-practice thing, I am not even going to comment on the difficulties that occasionally crop up in getting life/work balance correct. Except to say the points you are making are way too rigid. WAY too rigid.

    • :-)) First point, the homework/TV/violin practice thing: Yes, of course, life is full of difficulties. For some students (school children), these difficulties consist of having to balance coming home after school (around 2pm hereabouts), having to change into leisure clothes (SA does school uniforms), eating your lunch, watching TV,and doing homework. Somewhere in there must be 15-30 minutes for violin practice… “It’s just not possible”, they tell me. How about getting up a little earlier and starting the day with 10 – 15 minutes of violin? “Then I’d have to get up at 5h.” But what on Earth does your morning look like?? “Well, we get up at 6h, then we get dressed and eat breakfast, and brush our teeth, and then Mom takes us to school.” (School starts at 7:30.) – and you can’t get up like, say, 10 minutes earlier and fit in practice? “… umm, no. Not really. Because then we don’t get enough sleep.” Dig long enough and you’ll always find another excuse to every potential solution.

      On the other hand I have kids who participate in 3 different sports (that means that after school they are physically occupied until 5pm every day), take Master Maths, do ballet and play violin – and practice! Faithfully, every day. Do they do their homework? Of course! They are also usually the ones who achieve top grades. They too study for tests; they too have unexpected things cropping up in their lives, but still they practice. How do they do it? I have no idea. Somehow I managed it too as a kid (and somehow I still never really felt pressed for time – and I practiced longer, 1-2 hours, not 30 minutes). Obviously in exam times I cut people some slack, or before big class tests – but I also note that it’s the committed ones who never even tell me when their big tests are coming up! So – yeah, life gets in everyone’s way, but mainly the excuses I hear have nothing to do with life, they are more about nobody reminding the 10-year-old that it’s time to practice. They are actually parenting issues, not life-gets-in-the-way issues.

      As for the process of engineering a story – I take it you do research for yours? You have an incredibly differentiated way of getting dialects and vernacular right, for instance. Don’t tell me that just “came to you”? Your stories are very well thought-out, and the details of places and backgrounds are always very well-researched. They do not strike me as simply a “wave of inspiration” that headed your way and washed over you.

      And no, writing and playing the violin do not follow the same process of preparation, but while they are actively flowing, they are closely related. The main difference are the stress levels – while you are performing at someone’s wedding, you’re aware that it has to sweep people away and uplift them while the process of playing is happening. Nobody expects this of you while you’re writing; you have leisure to go back, re-read and fix, and check that what you eventually show others is the best work you can present – and you also don’t have to watch their live reactions while they read it. But once they have read it, there is as much you can do about what they experienced, as about your musical performance that day.

    • I notice there’s a piece of argument in there disguised as a compliment. That’s very clever, but you’ve got get up (an extra ten minutes) early to get one past me! 😀

      Yes I research, but my main point remains intact, and that is that writing is not like building a wall. There is no basic technique whereby you can turn out a wall yea high and yea wide from an endless supply of words and time, nor a plumbing system yea long and yea efficient from an endless supply of words and time. It doesn’t work like that. Believe me, ‘writer’s block’ and ‘too lazy to build the wall’ are two vastly different things; one can’t be helped, and one can. End of.

  2. Not quite. I have to side with Lyz on this. The annals tell us of many famous writers in history who always wrote for a determined and specific number of hours every single day. I don’t remember reading that any of them complained of writers block. Perhaps all they did was sit there and stare at the paper in the pen but they had the discipline to sit at their desk’s and at least make an attempt. I think any of us who write know that it’s something similar to giving birth and that the creative process is indeed complex, but if you don’t push yourself to try to overcome its inherent difficulties by being extremely disciplined, you will never accomplish anything. I suspect that sometimes “writer’s block” may be used as an excuse for lack of discipline or just plain not feeling like trying. I believe someone has writers block when they sit at their desk day in and day out and still don’t manage to produce something – not when they have to be inspired and only then go to write.

    • 🙂 @ Eloise: Or if they are simply burnt out. I think writers are possibly the extreme case of the self-employed person, they push themselves through the limits until their brain is so tired it screeches to a halt, and then they panic and believe they have Writer’s Block.

      I also know of people who have set themselves a goal (and stick to it) of x words per day. I wouldn’t be able to do that, either. I’m not disciplined enough for one, but for another, once I’m on the go I can’t stop at x words, I write until I fall over or have to run.

      But nevertheless it’s an interesting topic. If Writer’s Block is a genuine syndrome, it ought to have a physiology, or at least a psychological pattern. I’d be curious to investigate.

    • Will neither of you take the say-so of a prolific writer who has had to take her foot off the accelerator? No? Too bad. I thoroughly dislike the doctrine of dismissing inconvenient evidence. Being serious here, for a moment.

  3. gipsika, I’d like to use part of this post on one of my websites (TheWritingDream.com). Please contact me and I’ll provide more details. There’s a “Contact” page on the website you visited about my book. Thanks!

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