Debunking Writer’s Block


by Debbie Vance

Writers often complain about “writer’s block,” as if we writers have an inherent disability that prevents us from effectively completing our work. In no other field is there a specially designed label for failure. Henry Miller says, “When you can’t create you can work,” which is, I think, a good foundational perspective for all writers. There are days when the metaphorical creative juices just aren’t flowing as fast, when they’re blocked, so to say, but that does not mean that your writing day is shot. You can edit, you can brainstorm, you can work out that kink in the timeline that prevents person A from being in location B at appointed time C because person A was born only X years before time C and cannot be age Y without breaking a basic physical rule. And if all else fails, as Michael Erard explains in the following quote, just start writing what’s “hot,” whether or not it’s what you need to be writing, and usually other things will start to heat up too. Like warming up to go for a run, it gets easier the more you work at it. (For writing is, despite cultural misconceptions, work.)

Writer Michael Erard on “creative block” (from BrainPickings‘ article, “How to Break Through Your Creative Block: Strategies from 90 of Today’s Most Exciting Creators”):

First of all, being creative is not summoning stuff ex nihilo. It’s work, plain and simple — adding something to some other thing or transforming something. In the work that I do, as a writer and a metaphor designer, there’s always a way to get something to do something to do something else. No one talks about work block.

Also, block implies a hydraulic metaphor of thinking. Thoughts flow. Difficulty thinking represents impeded flow. This interoperation also suggests a single channel for that flow. A stopped pipe. A dammed river. If you only have one channel, one conduit, then you’re vulnerable to blockage. Trying to solve creative block, I imagine a kind of psyching Roto-Rootering.

My conceptual scheme is more about the temperature of things: I try to find out what’s hot and start there, even if it may be unrelated to what I need to be working on, and most of the time, that heats up other areas too. You can solve a lot with a new conceptual frame.

Another helpful quote from Jessica Hagy, writer and creator of the blog Indexed:

How can you defeat the snarling goblins of creative block? With books, of course. Just grab one. It doesn’t matter what sort: science fiction, science fact, pornography (soft, hard, or merely squishy), comic books, textbooks, diaries (of people known or unknown), novels, telephone directories, religious texts — anything and everything will work.

Now, open it to a random page. Stare at a random sentence.


Every book holds the seed of a thousand stories. Every sentence can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Mix ideas across books: one thought from Aesop and one line from Chomsky, or a fragment from the IKEA catalog melded with a scrap of dialog from Kerouac.

By forcing your mind to connect disparate bits of information, you’ll jump-start your thinking, and you’ll fill in blank after blank with thought after thought. The goblins of creative block have stopped snarling and have been shooed away, you’re dashing down thoughts, and your synapses are clanging away in a symphonic burst of ideas. And if you’re not, whip open another book. Pluck out another sentence. And ponder mash-ups of out-of-context ideas until your mind wanders and you end up in a new place, a place that no one else ever visited.



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