Why I don’t believe in writer’s block

Pop culture has given us this image of a writer, someone who sits at a desk day and night and their story flows out of them at a maddening pace until they have birthed their book, in its entirety, until they are exhausted. They eat nothing but toast for days on end (that is, if they remembered to eat at all), and they barely get any sleep. Sound familiar?

And then there’s a flip side to this, when they’re stuck and no words, no stories pour out of them. They write something, scratch it out, write something, scratch it out again, then out of a deep frustration that absolutely nothing is working, they scrunch up the paper and toss it to the floor. Queue the camera zooming out to show us hundreds of scrunched up balls of paper surrounding this illustrious writer. That dreaded, infamous… writer’s block!

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it is a myth, a glamorous romanticized thing served up to us writers who are having trouble getting words on the page. Oh yes, I believe there will be days, many days when you will have trouble getting words on the page. It’s natural and it’s inevitable. But the idea of a ‘writer’s block’ feeds into this myth of how writing works, that stories are born whole and complete and simply pour out of us onto the page, dazzling us with their beauty. But that’s not how it works, is it?

“I always say to my students, ‘It’s called work for a reason.’ Like, when people say they really love your work, it was never not work, it didn’t spill out. It’s like sanding: if you want to have an elegant curved banister, that doesn’t come from hacking it out with a hatchet, it’s from the most soul-destroying attention to the whole. The sanding is not sexy or glamorous, but you’re doing it because you have this idea.”

Alexander MacLeod

I love the above statement from Canadian writer, Alexander MacLeod, because he so brilliantly describes what writing actually looks like: not just hacking away at a keyboard and coming out with a finished story, but chipping away it, over and over again, sentence by sentence, word by word.

So what do we mean then, when we talk about ‘writer’s block?’ To me, it’s simply a state of feeling stuck and being unsure of how to proceed. This happens when I’ve finished a project and want to start something new and can’t think of anything. Or when I’m working on a story and am having trouble with a certain aspect of it, the beginning or ending, a character that feels underdeveloped, or a lack of conflict and tension in the story, and none of the changes I make feel significant enough.

In the next few posts, I’ll talk more about these specific situations and how I’ve been able to get out of this feeling of ‘stuckness’ in my own writing.

Photo (top) by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

One thought on “Why I don’t believe in writer’s block

  1. Yes! I feel seen and understood. The hacking away is especially true for me as a new writer. I chop at my writing hoping that it will come out as… something recognizable, something I felt and that others might feel it too. But again and again, I am forced to return. It’s not quite right. The more I work at it, the more it feels wrong. The adjustments never end. Projects are abandoned from frustration.

    I hope as with any craft, skill improves with practice. I hope that someday instead of hacking I can carve.

    Congratulations on your new blog and website. I’ll be back soon to check on it, inshaAllah!

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