Saying, “Writer’s block doesn’t exist because you just need to plant your butt in the chair and write” is like saying, “Weight-loss issues don’t exist because people just need to stop over eating and get their butts into the gym.”
If weight-loss were that simple, the diet section on Amazon would shrink by 90% (according to the abacus in my head). Same with writer’s block.
If you don’t think writer’s block exists, awesome. Color me jealous. I see you sitting in a chair for hours, fingers flying across the keyboard at a tap dancer’s pace.
No brain freeze at the sight of the blank page.
No Gremlin, like my 10-tunner, playing games with your head.
No obstacles threatening to stop you from penning your novel in a weekend.
Am I right? Or is it more likely that you plant your butt in the chair armed to field blank page syndrome, negative self talk, and other sources of…
Regardless, we’re fielding the wrong question.
Huh? There’s such a thing as a wrong question?
Nope. I’m suggesting we field a different one. Here’s why:
Everyone struggles with something that others don’t. When we don’t struggle, it’s easy to forget this and spew overly-simplified solutions.
For example, I don’t struggle with exercise. (I caught those must-be-nice eye-rolls. If that was you, please, hear me out.)
I’ve built a 3-to-5 day per week rock climbing ritual. This means I show up…even on days I’d rather crash on the couch with my pals Malbec and Netflix than haul my exhausted butt up the wall. Not because I’m an athlete. I’m not. Or an exercise masochist. The jury’s still out on that.
I show up because I’ve assembled an arsenal of tools to me help haul butt up wall and push past self-imposed limits, no matter what.
Same with peeps who don’t believe in writer’s block. They’ve armed themselves with tools that help them ditch their blocks, whether they realize it or not.
What if I run into a climbing buddy who I haven’t seen in a while, and he complains about being weak and out of shape? I should say, “Just get in the gym and train, dude!” Right?
Nuck Fo! What if he’s nursing an injury? Cutting back to help his sick mom? Or is conjuring up courage to climb after a 50 foot fall?
Same with writer’s block. Anyone who says, “just plant you’re butt in the chair and write” is making assumptions…potentially damaging assumptions. What if that writer hasn’t been armed with the tools for ditching perfectionism, fear or self-sabotage? Or worse…
What if this advice pushes a depressed writer over the ledge? Scary!!!!
Yeah but, no one says they’re suffering from dieter’s block, engineer’s block or heart surgeon’s block. True, but those peeps just didn’t have an Edmund Bergler to coin that term for them. Doesn’t mean those don’t exist.
This just goes to show…
Debating over the existence of writer’s block or any block for that matter is as productive as busy-work. Less, since I’ve solved many a prose problem while alphabetizing my pantry.
So, what’s the question I want us to field? There are two, actually. To start let’s press pause on the existence debate and field…
What is writer’s block?
Hint: It’s more than staring into a blank white screen.
For some writers it starts before they hit the chair.
For others it strikes mid-project.
For others it sneaks up as they approach THE END.
Obviously, for some it’s as real as unicorns and time machines.
And, yep, for a handful of writers it’s a badge of honor worn as an excuse to avoid doing the work.
Okay. But what is it?
Writer’s block is an umbrella term that covers 53 creative blocks and counting – according to the list I’m compiling.
Since we’re all unique individuals, it makes sense that writer’s block means something different for each of us. Defining it for yourself is key to grabbing the right tool to ditch it.
Pssst…If the term writer’s block isn’t for you, try Resistance on for size – the more fashionable synonym coined by my hero, Steven Pressfield.
If only my own definition and the list of 53 blocks existed in 2014.
That summer my struggles with writing ballooned to a point where I couldn’t stomach penning a simple email. My emaciated bank account couldn’t fund a coach, so I turned to the internet.
For weeks I tried setting timers, word counts & other derivatives of the plant-butt-in-chair fix. They just left me asking, “Why can I push my body beyond what I think it can do, but I can’t string 2 coherent words together? Why? Why? Why? What’s wrong with me?”
Then one day a new question popped into my head, “Where is this block coming from?”
Ummm…did the life coach in my head just wake up? Who cares! A bit of exploration lead to this list:
- Feeling lazy because I can’t make like the pros who write for hours.
- 10-Tunner (my inner-critic).
- First drafts that are nothing more than sentence fragments mingling amongst gazillion-word run-on’s.
- Fear of not being good enough to support myself as a screenwriter.
- Feeling like I suck because I don’t churn out copy at a beat reporter’s pace.
Heavy stuff. AND… So. Many. Assumptions! No wonder I was stuck.
Sound familiar? If so, I’m here for you.
The list above is magic. Why?
Because, it revealed that for weeks I used the wrong tools and asked the wrong question each time I sat down to write.
It exposed my addiction to the writer’s-block-doesn’t-exist elixir and its debilitating side effect – feeling like a talentless, lazy-ass, tire-kicker who couldn’t put pen to page.
And it unleashed a string of questions that helped me assemble my toolset for facing and ditching writing blocks. Guess what?
None of my tools involve just planting my butt in the chair and writing.
So, what is writer’s block?
It’s anything that threatens to derail a planning, drafting, revising or proofreading session. It could be one of the 53 blocks in the list I compiled or one I haven’t encountered, yet. Only you can define it.
Once you do, you’re ready for question two. When you’re stuck ask…
What do you think is the source behind this block?
Exploring this will help you grab the right tool(s) to ditch it. (Stay tuned for a post on this.)
With that, fellow writers, I double-dog dare you to press pause on the “Does writer’s block exist” question and stop forcing bandaid fixes like, just plant your butt in the chair and write.
Try asking yourself or a fellow writer who’s stuck, “What do you think is the source of your block?”
You just might be able to grab the right tool and rescue a writing life.
Over to you
How do you define writer’s block?
I double-dog dare you to share your thoughts with the Write 50 crew in the comments section below. Your comment enters you in a drawing to score a 15 minute discovery coaching session.
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