Writer’s Block: The Nature of the Beast

What is Writer’s Block?

Almost every writer has suffered some form of block at some point in their career for one reason or another. Some have been known to be afflicted for months or even years. Everyone dreads the famous malady, but what exactly is it, and what causes it?

Most assume that writer’s block is a lack of inspiration, or nightmarish state of emptiness in which no words will come. Okay, it is a little like that…but seriously, my experience with block usually has nothing to do with a lack of ideas, or even inspiration.

My most common experience with block is as a loss of momentum, a stoppage of work that could have resulted from any number of reasons. Some reasons have to do with the project itself, some problem that has come up or something that needs to be worked out, and others just have to do with life. Either way, it’s simple Newtonian mechanics: an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

Why is this so true in writing? After all, it’s not like we’re trying to move a mountain, although it sometimes feels that way. It’s a simple thing to sit down and write some sentences. What prevents the blocked writer from doing so? I believe it is fear. When a person is scared a common response is to freeze up and stop breathing. In extreme cases it can be very difficult to restore breathing and movement, even when it is essential for survival. Writers block is like a mental stoppage of breath and movement.

So what are writers so afraid of? Fear that the project suddenly seems hopeless, or dull. Fear that the work will never live up to the idea. Fear that the end won’t live up to the beginning. Fear of getting it wrong. Overall fear of failure. Any honest writer can give you a list of fears, some longer than others. These fears prevent further work and keep the writer in a non-writing state. Sometimes they strike like lightning, and sometimes they creep up on you like a slow poison.

If this is true than overcoming writer’s block is not a matter of finding your lost muse, but a matter of overcoming your fear. Acknowledging this is the first step in getting back to work. Just like dealing with physical fear, it is essential to breath, get things moving, build your confidence. Of course it’s not always easy, but if you are determined, soon the wall of writer’s block will surely crumble and fall.