Debunking Writer’s Block

January 12, 2005

Like many prolific authors, Philip Pullman doesn’t have time for writers who complain about writer’s block (as I’ve posted about before):

“I don’t believe in it. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

I’m bringing it up again because I’ve just recovered from a very serious case of blockage to the writerly arteries. I’m not asking for sympathy and even after a week of banging my head against my computer, I’m still not sure if writer’s block even exists.

My writing task was to come up with a very specific story idea that was fresh, smart and engaging for young readers. After passing my deadline by nearly a week, I finally came up with the idea (not even the story yet, just the idea!)

The thing is, I didn’t sit around for a week with an empty head. I had many ideas, but the internal editor rejected all of them for various reasons (bland, done-before, and just plain stupid, you know the ones.) I can’t ever see using any of my rejected ideas but I was still generating stuff, just not the right stuff. So did I have writer’s block? Or was my idea flow bunged up with too much holiday eggnog?

“Writer’s write” is the famous quote aimed at those who moan about being blocked. And I agree with it completely. First drafts are designed to be horrible messes that should never see the light of day, but unfortunately many do. I think many people take the definition of “being blocked” too literally, as if it’s an on/off kind of thing. I find it very hard to believe that someone who wants to write has absolutely no ideas coming from their brain. They must!

We are constantly generating ideas, many of which we think are unbelievably bad so they get stopped by that sensible editor within and they shrivel up and die before they hit the page/screen. But the idea is generated and that is part of the creative process. We writers are an egotistical group of people and many of us feel that writing bad stuff is not writing at all. So they don’t admit to writing the crap copy that is essential to get to the final draft. They’d rather avoid writing all togehter and complain of a complete creative block.

As Pullman says, plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, but plumbers do have their good days and their bad days. A plumber having a bad day will still show up to work and fix your pipes. She just won’t do a good job and will have to return next week to tighten the pipe that she missed and do the job right.

And that, as the last week has taught me, is what writing is all about. Leaky pipes and bad ideas are not to be ignored. Either fix them or replace them.

Now that my writing ideas are back on track, I think we should work on a new idea together: redefinig writer’s block.

I’m sure there’s no shortage of ideas out there.


One Response to “Debunking Writer’s Block”

  1. abrooklynartist Says:

    Great post!! Thank you.

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