Sunday, February 9, 2020

Why writer’s block?

Everyone has heard of writer’s block. And I don’t just mean other writers, I mean pretty much anyone you meet will likely have heard of the term.

A random thought occurred to me, though. Why writer’s block? Why do we never hear of painter’s block, or sculptor’s block, or trombonist’s block, or any of a number of other artistic blocks? Is this affliction unique to writers?

It seems it’s not. Looking into artistic blocks, creative people all over the place complain about dry spells, about lack of creativity, lack of inspiration. And there’s a lot of advice on how to deal with these ailments, and much of it has parallels with techniques I wrote about in Breaking the Block. So it seems it’s widespread, it just hasn’t got a name.

Except for writers.

So why writers, in particular?

I wonder if it has anything to do with another oddity about writing.

Least likely conversation to hear at a dinner party: “Oh, you’re a concert pianist! How interesting. I thought of doing that too, just haven’t got around to it yet.”

Substitute “writer” for “concert pianist” and it suddenly turns into a frequently-heard conversation. So many people admire the talent of painters and musicians because so many people happily profess to being useless at art, or tone deaf. And yet everyone seems to be a budding novelist, as if writing is the easiest thing in the world.

Now, all the creative arts acknowledge that practitioners go through rough patches, where output dries up. They acknowledge that creativity and capturing creativity in a tangible form is darned hard work, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. But along with that, in all the other arts learning the craft comes first. Claiming your musical creativity has dried up kinda lacks credibility if you’ve never played a note before in your life.

But writing is different. With so many people thinking it’s easy, that they can casually “give it a go”, they look for a reason when it turns out not to be so straightforward. So I wonder if writer’s block emerged as a fallback for people who tried, but got stuck. Because nobody can really admit to not being able to write, but they can say they are actually a writer, really, but the lack of output is because they are suffering from the dreaded writer’s block.

What do you think? Plausible? Or bunkum?


  1. I think real writers and authors can get blocked and stuck. I know I lacked for inspiration for a long stretch. But that is an interesting point that most people don't talk about the other arts the way they do about writing, claiming they've considered doing it one day.
    Never been blocked musically. I've not felt like practicing, but I'm in a band, so regardless how I feel, I pick up my guitar and do it.

  2. That does sound plausible, Ian. Many of us have never tried sculpture, or dance, or piano playing. But almost all of us write in some form, and it isn't as obvious what craft goes into story construction (we can all type, right?). So it may be a more baffling experience to be unable to write.

  3. Alex, there's no doubt that real writers get stuck too, just like in every creative profession. But the perception of writing seems different to other creative endeavors.

    Rick, that's the thing, isn't it? Pretty much everyone writes, so how hard can it be? After all, a novel is just a thousand emails laid end to end!

  4. I think your theory is plausible. Every Tom, Dick, and Mary believes they're capable of writing a best-selling novel. Nobody would be crass enough to announce that they've been thinking about sitting in the symphony's first chair in "their spare time."

  5. Susan, that's the thing, isn't it? Not only do people assume they can write, it's amazing how many think they'll casually write a novel, when they can be bothered to take a bit of time out.

  6. Hi Ian - we all have blips in life ... but especially if we're doing something that we really need to learn how to do when we start out ... we can jump in - but it won't be very good - we need to plan, and how to appreciate how to structure a story ... we can still be unique - but we will almost certainly have writer's block.

    We need to get up and walk around, delay that subject for a while ... or follow your 'Breaking the Block' ... which has really clear ideas. Well done for writing it for anyone who is struggling ... cheers Hilary


I love comments. Please feel free to join in the discussion.

I also try to respond to comments. I usually do so during the early evening (Pacific time) which may be many hours away from now!

So if you leave a comment and return some time later and I haven't responded yet, please don't think I'm ignoring you. I'm not. Honest.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...