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.




  1. So, I used to say I was blocked. Now I’m not so sure, and redefining a lot of things.

    Sometimes I think that my gift was subject of so much pressure/exploitation/expectation (win another competition for the school!) that it simply shut down. But, uh, that’s not my gift. That would be me. :p

    Secondly, I think that many writers define themselves by their ability to write with ease. So, when the ease stops being there, they don’t know how to deal with it. In Polish we call it having a “light pen”; an accomplished writer is supposed to have one. Olga Tokarczuk, one of the accomplished writers of the generation once said ironically, that writing is not about having a light pen, but a heavy ass (she actually mentioned “stones in one’s ass”, which sounds kind of worse in English :).

    Now when I’m saying I’m blocked, I know that what I mean is “I don’t want to”. I have words coming to me every day, but it is hardly ever strong enough to overcome my resistance and get me to write. My words are getting itchy, though – as evidenced by this post ;-)

    So, to sum up, my story, and maybe not only mine, consists of 1. things coming with ease 2. things suddenly NOT coming easy 3. being unable to deal (sour grapes syndrome, too). I was one of those “smart kids” – which meant that until my late uni years I never knew how to actively study, because studying seemed to just “happen”. To give another example, nowadays I’m breaking a lifelong embargo on running. It never came easy; it seemed to hate me, so I hated it back. Silly, isn’t it? I love working with my body, but having decided long ago that running (and some other forms of heavier workout) were “not for me”, I put a real limitation on what I could achieve. My god, the struggle! Now, how many people have blocked out their creativity in a similar way, because of a failure?

    If my PE teachers took the time to run me through (haha :) the basics of jogging for beginners – minute of walking, minute of running, slow speed, not giving up – I would have learnt to take pleasure in it way sooner. Alas, there was only judgement in the way of grades. As it is, now I’m learning, slowly and deliberately – it’s a skill like any other, I don’t measure my self-worth by it, but I need it for other things.

    At the end – a recommendation: this TED talk examines the importance of baby steps in easing yourself (back) into creative effort. :-)

    all the best to creative readers! :-)


  2. I think I can blame my writer’s block on my anxiety. My mother doesn’t understand me still even after getting my B.A. in creative writing. I heard from my aunt that she’s gotten to know a few good writer friends in recent times. She said some days it seems like you write a few pages, other days, you can barely edit let alone write. She told me it seems exhausting. What relief I felt, finally understood by someone. The tension at home makes writing in my safest of all places, supposedly my bedroom, difficult if not impossible. I’m at a rented office I spent $40.00 a month on and I still feel agitated at times. It doesn’t matter if I take my clemtis or my medications. I’m still feeling tense even if I was away for the evening last night on a night I’m usually at home trying to write. I feel like my attempts to write anything new are futile until I finish editing my novel.

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