The word ‘block’ seems to turn up a lot in writing.
You can ‘block out’ your scenes. You can ‘block’ stage directions. You can ‘block’ actions together, and ‘block’ sections together, making beginnings, middles, and ends.
You can block out all distractions, block your inner editor from getting involved too soon and even block in gaps in your manuscript after writing the easy bits.
And some days you can just get plain blocked.
I have now said ‘block’ so often, the word has gone all weird on me.
So many ways to use the word block, but when one writer says to another ‘I’ve hit a block’, they know immediately what they mean, as do a lot of lay people too.
Writer’s block – a mythical being that rears up time to time to stop a work from progressing. The dreaded chief antagonist inside a writers head and self.
Some people claim it doesn’t exist. I’ve read plenty of blogs and threads of people who are steadfast in the idea that writer’s block is simply an excuse for not working and despise the term.
I’ve seen it discussed as everything from a misunderstood problem in the manuscript to be worked through, to some clinical moral failing in the writer experiencing it, who is clearly not a real writer, and just isn’t trying hard enough.
Personally, I take issue with all those people, some more than others.
I can understand perhaps where the first type of person is coming from – the block isn’t really some ephemeral wall inside your head, it’s something else you need to put a name to and work around to get back on track.
That makes sense, and indeed writer’s block is hardly some deity of writing inside a person’s head, with the writer a slave to its whims. But I do still take issue with the usual advice these people give out, which tends to talk about identifying your problem and managing it. That’s lovely advice… but not always helpful.
There are people out there who can take a step back, return to their problem manuscript and figure out where they are having issues and address them. That’s great, and I’m pleased for those people, but not everyone works that way. I think there is a large community of writers out there who when they hit a problem, cannot necessarily identify it as one single thing, or quite where the problem is coming from so clinically or efficiently.
So Then, Does it Actually Exist?
Yes, I think writer’s block does exist.
You have the kind talked about above – a problem section to be worked around – which you might solve by pinpointing the issue, and that’s certifiably real.
Yet I also think there is a second kind of writer’s block, and it’s perhaps a good block.
I know for myself that despite having entire books in my head, my brain only lets so much trickle out at any given time. I try to push more words out in a rush because I can feel them there, but something inside me holds things back.
In the past, I have likened the feeling to having a huge roiling sea in my mind, smashing against a sea wall. Water passes over the top of the wall with every hit, but never the whole wave at once, even if I wish it would.
The wall is my Block.
Sometimes, that wall gets even bigger than it normally is, and no waves get over the top – no words come out. I get writer’s block, and in this sort of instance, it seems to always happen when I am tired, stressed, or in need of a break.
The block is protecting me from burning myself out, and I’m quite sure I cause it to happen to myself.
My mental minx turns up in the night and adds a couple of feet to the wall, then skives off for a brief vacation. By the time the wall gets worn back down, I’m usually ready to write a lot more, and better, and much more likely to find flaws in my work.
Dealing with a Block
As a person who does think writer’s block exists, and that isn’t easily pinned down to a simple cause, I have of course had to learn to deal with it.
This is where the more antagonistic people’s viewpoint comes in (the one about writer’s block being an excuse). I am very aware of my own habits and desire to be lazy, so when I do get a block, I always worry about laziness.
It’s not that I get a block because I can’t be bothered to write – that never happens. But I risk making my block worse when I start worrying that I have stopped writing due to laziness. I worry that I might not pick the project back up again, that I am letting people down by not continuing, and that always ends up prolonging the problem.
Because most of my blocks are tiredness/stressed based.
The first thing I tend to do when I hit a block is take a step back. I have a nice bath or play games for a few hours, then sit with my laptop and ask a simple question.
What do I want to write right now?
If my answer is ‘that scene with X person talking to Y person from this other project’, I know that I am not blocked fully. I either have a problem with the manuscript I had been working on, or I just need a rest from whatever I was writing before, time to think.
Under those circumstances, I can continue to work by letting my focus shift. I am steadily learning to forgive myself for project hopping because that’s just how I am as a writer. No one has the right to judge me for how I create, and I’m working on not judging myself.
If my answer to the question is ‘oh gods, nothing. I don’t wanna’, I know I have hit a full block. It might be due to a problem in the manuscript, or just outside stress or tiredness, but whatever the underlying cause, I know I need to stop.
My next question is ‘do I want to work on Hevna at all right now?’. Most of the time, the answer to that is yes, and I will work on a map or an art piece. That way I can feel like I’m still producing without taxing my brain in the same way.
Yet sometimes, I just need to not think about, act upon, or have anything to do with writing. No art, no words, no planning. It’s rare, but when it happens, I try to have a good two days of nothing to do with my work before I ask myself my question all over again.
In short, I deal with writer’s block by recognizing what that term means for me, how it affects me, and then using a plan to handle it.
My plan doesn’t always banish it immediately or necessarily shorten the length of a block, but it means I know I’m not just being lazy – I am managing myself, practicing self-care, and keeping alive my passion for what I’m trying to do.
I think that’s a pretty good thing ^^