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Writer’s Block – Condition or Excuse?

September 28, 2017

JUDY CUMBERBATCH

We’ve all heard of writer’s block. Some of us have experienced it. I believe I have. But as I wait for the muse to descend yet again, I wonder whether I am suffering from writer’s block or something much more banal, that could properly be called ‘laziness?

Writer’s Block, intones Wikipedia, is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.

Not everyone agrees with this definition.

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” writes Terry Pratchett dismissively. “It was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

Ouch, my tortured writer’s soul protests. Has he no understanding? Pratchett is not alone. 

Philip Pullman is also less than sympathetic.

“Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

Much against my will, I have to admit there is a certain logic to what he says.

But to agree with Pullman and Pratchett is to go against the vast army of psychologists, writers, researchers, analysts and critics, who are involved in researching and explaining the condition and helping writers to overcome it, not to mention the writers themselves who believe they are suffering from it.

There are many explanations put forward. Fear of rejection and failure and lack of self confidence and self belief are among the most common, but by no means the only ones.

The American writer, Henry Roth, for example, had a glittering start to his career and then produced nothing for many years. According to the critic, Jonathan Rosen, his ‘monumental ‘ block was caused by many factors, which included, but were not limited to,  ‘Communism, Jewish self-loathing, incest and depression.’

I don’t think communism or incest are my particular bugbears but there are plenty of other reasons I can draw on, without having to think very hard and which all involve a certain amount of self-flagellation and negativity.

Perhaps that’s why I like Harper Lee’s explanation. She never repeated the success, she enjoyed with To Kill A Mocking Bird, and barely wrote again publicly for the rest of her life. Psychologists might claim otherwise but Harper Lee puts the blame, fairly and squarely, on everyone else.

“I’ve found I can’t write,” she says. “I have about 300 personal friends who keep dropping in for a cup of coffee. I’ve tried getting up at six, but then all the six o’clock risers congregate.”

Maybe there’s another reason, that’s neither laziness, nor fear of rejection but simply an unwillingness to write.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2017 4:40 pm

    I think Writers’ Block exists and it’s to do with having the creative space in your head to play about with ideas and characters. If you are in crisis – emotional, perhaps, or worry about something, then that essential space to play can disappear. You can force yourself to work through it – but the results are not always happy.

  2. October 2, 2017 7:02 pm

    Like Elizabeth, I think it’s to do with the pressures of life intruding on that creative space to the point where you struggle to care about your creations. Oh, that and panic!

  3. Buzz About Books permalink*
    October 4, 2017 10:24 am

    Oh yes…that horrible feeling. In fact it is something that we all share at times. I took part in a ‘songwriters’ exercise to ‘trick’ the mind into writing without worrying. Also I read a book that really helped me called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. Its worth reading….

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