Got Writer’s Block? Take Two Pulitzer’s And Call Me in The Morning

11 Jan

So I’ve been working on a short story that has been a true pain in the ass. To make a snobbish writerly metaphor, it’s been a “Sisyphean undertaking.” Every word I put down seemed to bring me closer to my goal, but when I took a step back and looked at the final product, I found the need to go back to square one. After several drafts, I felt that I was stuck, that no matter what I did, this story would never be finished.

My theory was that I had Writer’s Block and, therefore, decided to cure it in the method any good writer will employ: a twelve-pack of Tecate and Season Four of The Wire. After that, I went back to my computer, but the story still sucked (or at least I thought it did), so instead I: did the dishes, did two loads of laundry, went grocery shopping, cleaned the bathroom floor, thought melancholically about the past, and read the National Review. All of these were preferable to the prospect of trying to salvage the piece of shit I had been working on for the past couple of weeks.

And then, finally, somehow, I got around to actually working on my writing. Not writing itself, but to the work of it. I didn’t like it, but I did it. As I worked I wondered why writing wasn’t fun anymore. It used to be. When I was younger I would pass up almost any social event to stay home on a Friday night and write. It came easy to me, and I felt good about it afterwards. But as I got older, the sheer joy in writing faded, until it had become an onerous task. What happened? Had I fallen out of love with it? Or had I just come down with a chronic, and possibly fatal, case of Writer’s Block?

But Writer’s Block doesn’t exist, does it? It’s not an actual disease, it’s not in the DSM-IV (though I suffer from twelve other things that are), it can’t be diagnosed or cured. It’s just a subjective concept, one that any writer can evoke to reason away inactivity or lack of inspiration.  Here is someone who claims to have suffered Writer’s Block for five years.  This one says Writer’s Block is a result of fear, “[f]ear of failure, fear of not writing something perfect, fear of writing something bad, fear of being laughed at, fear of being criticized, fear of rejection.” This guy says it doesn’t exist, and he has “never met an author who has had writer’s block.” Probably doesn’t get out much. This states that Writer’s Block might actually be the beginnings of depression. Riiiight, a depressed writer, now I’ve heard everything. (Note: a simple Google search for “writers block” brings up a gazillion blogs in which people write ad nauseum about the fact that they can’t write at all.)

Here’s my take, and you are free to disagree with it (though you would be wrong and look foolish in doing so):

Writer’s Block is a good thing. It is beneficial for writers. It’s the challenge all writers face. It is the wall a marathoner hits and pushes through. It’s the frustration we all get when things in life are difficult, but we choose to persevere rather than give up. It is Sisyphus carrying that rock up a hill, hoping that this time it will stick. If writing (or any art form) came easy, it would soon become boring. And the last thing art should be is boring.

One theme I hear a lot is that “only writers get blocked, you never hear of a bricklayer getting “bricklayer’s block.” Yes, because bricklaying is the easiest job in the world, and no one ever complains about it. Every job has difficult moments. I don’t care how well-qualified you are, you will at some point be challenged. An actress cannot find her character. A lawyer cannot perfect an argument. A mathematician cannot get the two sides equal. A minister cannot make children afraid of Hell. We struggle daily, not just in our careers, but in our lives. We struggle in romance, with raising children, with our finances. But we struggle through them because we know that if we succeed the reward is worth it.

Very few things actually come easy. You want to be a doctor, medical school is hard. Join the army, go through boot camp (and then, you know, maybe die). How about becoming an opera singer – you know how much you have to eat to become a fat lady? So, a pitcher has a perfect game through seven innings. He doesn’t go his manager and say “I don’t think I can do this, I’m afraid I’ll fail, take me out.”

If you choose to write, you will find yourself searching for hours for just the right word, trying to figure out what a character should do next, wondering if the story even makes sense. And you will question whether you are any good, or if you have wasted years of your life, vainly trying to succeed at something you just weren’t cut out for. You will contemplate quitting the whole racket because nothing good will ever come of it.

Trust me, I think that way all the time.


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