Writer’s block: Does it exist?

I’m fascinated about the debate about “writer’s block.” Some people claim that it does not exist, while others find themselves in the grips of it and feel invalidated by the people telling them it isn’t possible.

I think it’s a question of definition.

What does it mean to be blocked?

I met a writer once who claimed he was “blocked,” which to him seemed to mean that he was completely unable to think or express anything, verbal, written, or otherwise. He simply refused to try to express what was going on inside him (we were in a coaching session), saying, “I don’t know. I’m blocked,” as if it was a disease that had consumed him that he was unable to control and he was unable to speak, think, write, or act.

I think this is what people mean when they don’t say they believe in writer’s block — that it seems unlikely that writers are so completely unable to communicate.

I’m inclined to agree, but I’ve also heard so many stories about writers who have been blocked for years, it’s a bit confusing.

Plumber’s block?

Chris Guillebeau, in our Q&A interview the other day, said, “Have you ever heard of plumber’s block? Of course not — so if you’re a writer, you just need to write.”

It’s like writer’s block has become a passive excuse for not taking action on our writing, just like saying we’re creatively blocked is a passive way of not taking action on our creative work. And while I think it might actually be possible for a plumber to feel blocked, Chris makes a good point.

Can we redefine it as resistance?

On the other hand, if we redefine writer’s block as that constellation of perfectionism, procrastination, fear, excuses, anxiety, negativity, confusion, apathy, discomfort, and self-doubt otherwise known as resistance, then I think we’ve got something we can understand and deal with.

To my mind, resistance is a truer naming of writer’s block. It encompasses that sense of reluctance we feel about pursuing things that we know we want to do. I’ve known I’ve wanted to write for years, but hadn’t completed any larger works until recently.

Resistance is the stumbling block, and fear is its silent partner.

Writing — or taking action — is the answer, according to Seth Godin and Ira Glass. I’m inclined to agree.

Interesting links on writer’s block

Wikipedia article on writer’s block

Seth Godin on the writer’s block epidemic

Ira Glass on storytelling (live)

Ira Glass on storytelling (animated)

i09 on different storytelling writer’s blocks and how to deal with them

Trippy therapy techniques for blocked Hollywood writers and executives


Your turn

Do you know of any intriguing articles, perspectives, or resources about writer’s block or creative blocks? I’d love to have you post them in the comments on the blog.