Writer’s Block: Real or Hoax

Clare Shanahan, Editor

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I’ve been told many times by English teachers and authors alike that writer’s block doesn’t exist, and in the past I’ve found myself eager to disagree. In fact, at the BYWC this year, when asked how they deal with writer’s block, the conference’s seven mentors unanimously agreed that this universal phenomenon does not exist, insisting that it is nothing but a myth which we self-inflict. They confidently assured us that if we ever were to find ourselves void of inspiration, we should just sit down and write whatever might come to mind, no matter how ridiculous, incomprehensible, or simple. At the time, I was incredibly annoyed, seeing this advice as a  way to avoid the question and deny me the advice I so badly needed to hear. However, some perspective has altered my opinion entirely.

In every aspect of life, deadlines and the stress they cause are inevitable; writing is no different. Over this spring break I found myself pressed with a writing deadline that I was eager to meet. It seemed simple enough, and I literally could not wait to sit down and spend two weeks crafting the perfect piece. Even before I came close to opening a fresh Google doc or tapping a single key, ideas were spinning in my head, but as soon as the time actually came to put something on paper, my mind was miraculously blank. I found myself entirely incapable of writing anything beyond a second grade level or that I could see myself actually wanting to read — despite numerous attempts. Each of the four pieces I started were equally unique and decent in theory, but, in my eyes, dull and pointless in reality. After several days of staring at a perpetually blank untitled document I believe many, including myself,  would have diagnosed me with a classic case of writer’s block, the silent killer that we all are believed to face at one point or another; however, this was not the case.

In consideration of the standard I hold my writing to, it’s easy to see that it was not the mystical force of writer’s block which set me back at all; it was my own mind. As I began each piece, I told myself that it had to be perfect after a single draft, or it might as well be garbage. Every word had to be well crafted and thoughtfully chosen, and the final product could be nothing less than a truly incredible work of art which would leave everyone on earth dying to read it. I had set myself up for failure. It’s hard to accept a fact like this, that we have subconsciously turned on ourselves and the things we create. Simultaneously though, it’s a practically unavoidable situation. As a society we are conditioned to believe that if we are not perfect at everything on the first attempt, it’s not worth doing at all, and for this reason it’s easy to blame something like writer’s block rather than our own insecurity for making life difficult.

When I thought about writing this piece, I have to say that my first idea was not to write about the questionable existence of writer’s block and what it means; in fact, it wasn’t even in my top ten. It’s definitely not the great American novel; however, that’s exactly why it had to be written. In this experience I have sat down and typed out what I was thinking with no expectations or standards, and it’s because of that that I am able to finish any piece at all. It is not the mystical and incurable phenomenon of writer’s block that renders us incapable of creating, but our own standards and insistence to only complete pieces worthy of a Pulitzer prize, or at the very least an A grade.

In the words of the great Regie Gibson, “Your skills don’t care what you’re inspired by.” It’s more important to write something mediocre than to not write at all because you were waiting for the perfect idea.

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