Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Whether Writer's Block is Real

Yesterday I had a job interview for a writing position. During the interview, one of the people asked me what I do when I have writer's block. I said, "I don't get writer's block." He gave me the most incredulous look and implied that everybody gets writer's block. I reiterated that I don't. I said that if something is just not coming out the way I want, I just write "gobble-di-gook" until something good happens. He nodded knowingly, like he was thinking "see, you DO get writer's block."

Truly, I don't believe in writer's block. Maybe this is just me. My brain has so many thoughts and ideas zinging around at warp speed that, if anything, I have writing overload. I can't possibly write fast enough to get it all down.

Now, I will confess that I suffer from my own self-imposed writer's procrastination syndrome, in which I sometimes avoid the butt-in-chair action of sitting down and physically writing. I also have this life that doesn't always mean I have the time on any given day to make it to the butt-in-chair mode.

However, I feel that I am always writing, in my head if nothing else. I'm always going over scenes in my head, thinking up little phrases that I might use somewhere in ten years, pondering why a character seems flat.

Even when I have to write to a specific assignment and on a deadline, I don't usually have a problem with coming up with stuff to write. I almost always end up writing about twice as much as I need, and then have to cut most of it out.

So I was kind of appalled that this guy implied that I was lying about not having writer's block. Maybe I just don't call it that. Or maybe we define it differently. But even when I'm pondering, pondering, thinking, thinking, staring out the window, figuring out what words need to go on paper, I consider that writing. That is a very important part of my writing process. I have to think a long time about something before it gets put down. I don't think of that as writer's block. I think of that as the process.

I'd be curious to hear what other people experience. Because I'm willing to concede I might be wrong. (Although I'm sure I'm not. I mean, I should know what my own experience has been, right? But that might just be only me.)


  1. Like you, I get butt-in-the-chair block...or rather, I have 'opening-up-Microsoft-Word-block'.
    But once I force myself to stop checking my email and facebooking, I can always, always puke some words onto the page. Deadlines are actually great for me.

  2. You've articulated my process so well. Yes, I sometimes have writer's procrastination, and also a good bit of writer's apathetic prioritization (I want to write, but I want to read Mockingjay, watch Mad Men, catch up on twitter, take a nap MORE), but that's not exactly writer's block.

    I love what you said about always writing, even if it's only in your head. YES! I do that all the time. I find myself mulling over a description of where I am, something I just observed, how something might work better as poetry or prose... and a lot of that is never going to make it on to the page; it's just practice, some good mental stretching.

    Have I occasionally hit a roadblock on a particular piece of writing? Of course. And then I write something else, or go do something else altogether. So maybe that's writer's block, and maybe we are just splitting hairs over definitions. Anyway, I like your thinking on this issue. "Writer's Block" just seems like an easy cop-out for not writing.