Writer’s block. The fear of the blank page. A dread of unspeakable proportions. It’s the inability to know what comes next; how precisely do I proceed? Stultifying and horrible, sure; if, indeed, it actually existed. But I am here to argue that it doesn’t exist at all. It’s a fable, a story that writers tell themselves whenever they’re struggling with the piece they’re currently working on, or even as a way of avoiding putting pen to paper when inspiration seems to have entirely deserted them.
A block is something no other profession can luxuriate in. A heart surgeon in front of their patient’s open chest cavity saying, “I can’t operate today because I have surgeon’s block,” would get struck off the register.
A plumber would get laughed—or kicked—out of them room if they stood in front of a burst water main and said, “You know, I need some time with this one. I just don’t what I’m doing next. Give me a week.”
Professionals do what they have to do because it’s what they’re paid to do, or want to get paid to do, or because it’s what they want to do. If you want to be taken seriously, you can’t lay down on the chaise longue with a damp flannel over your eyes and wait for inspiration to strike.
Writers can confuse something far more common—procrastination—for writer’s block. The difference is, of course, that the former exists and the latter doesn’t. There will be times when you don’t want to work on something, so cleaning the toilet is preferable to overcoming the problem. That’s been the case for me on a number of occasions, which says more about the state of my writing than the cleanliness of my toilet.
I hate to put this next point so bluntly, but the concept of writer’s block has become rather romanticised, by both writers and non-writers. You can declare, in baleful tones, that you have writer’s block, and people will empathise with you. It’s become an accepted part of the ‘struggling writer’ narrative, where you’re locked away in an office surrounded by chocolate, coffee, and tissues as you struggle with your creative demons.
What comes across as writer’s block is oftentimes fear of ending something you’ve loved creating or starting something that you fear might not be your best work. It’s okay to feel like that, and you should accept the fact of life that not all your work will be the best, especially first drafts…and sometimes second drafts too. To get better at your art, you need to practice; if you don’t practice, then you will just become the jaded writer whose talks a very good talk but can’t then follow it through.
You need to break through the barrier of believing this and just write; it doesn’t have to be the best work you’ve ever created, but if it’s good enough then that’s fine too. Writing takes practice, so write what you know, what you like, what you’re interested in, what you want to read. If you need a run up before starting working on the important business of the day, then write a diary of what happened yesterday, but don’t let that become all you write, and don’t stare blankly at the screen cursing writer’s block. How will you ever be a writer if you don’t write? Treat the art with the respect it deserves and do it every single day, one way or the other.
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© 2018 Matthew Munson
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.