Writer’s block, by any other name, would smell as… Alright, bad metaphor. Really, names have power. In my opinion, the name ‘writer’s block’ has led to the wrong idea that it’s something that only affects writers.
What is writer’s block?
When creative people — primarily writers — are unable to produce new works because of mental issues, this is called writer’s block. Basically, it makes writers unable to write.
Of course, not everything that prevents writers from writing is writer’s block. Note that if you were to lock somebody in a cell so they produced no new works, then no, that would not be writer’s block. If a writer changed careers and became a sous-chef that would not be writer’s block. Writer’s block could cause it, but it’s not in itself writer’s block.
There are days when you sit down, open up your laptop, and the words don’t come. Is that writer’s block? One day, I’d say no. Two days? Probably not. A month? You’re getting there. But there is no set time. If you can only make yourself write one hour a week, and spend many more hours staring at an empty page, is that writer’s block? I don’t know. Probably, yes.
In short, it’s not really the clearest of definitions. It’s not an official medical diagnosis (I Googled it, very scientific of me). But it does exist, at least there are many reported cases, and it has been researched.
Like many other mental afflictions, disbelievers exist. The reason for this post is that somebody on Twitter had made some stupid comment about it being an excuse for being lazy. And if you don’t have something, it’s easy to dismiss.
“Anorexia? Don’t be so dramatic, just eat.” or “gender dysphoria, that’s just a cry for help.” Let me stress here that I have not myself ever said such things, intend ever to say such things, or endorse these statements in any way, nor do I wish to equate writer’s block with much more serious mental illnesses. That said, I hope you get my point: this is a real thing.
Have I had it? I don’t rightly know. I didn’t write for the first half of 2020 because the world seemed to have gone completely over the edge. I’ve had days where I stared at a page for an hour and managed to write only a few words which I later erased. That’s a far cry from that heady day when I wrote twenty-thousand words in one twelve-hour frenzy (I ate and drank, yes, I’m not insane). But was that writer’s block… I honestly don’t know.
Suffice it to say, writer’s block is thing.
Like I said in the opening section, I think the term is badly chosen. Because, really, it can affect all creative processes. If you work the assembly line, and have to perform the same repetitive task over and over, and your evenings are spent watching TV… yeah, you’re pretty safe from writer’s block.
However, if you compose music, think up marketing campaigns, or have to keep of bored toddlers busy in a daycare every day, then you do have to use the creative part of your brain. And that can fail.
Have you ever seen interviews with athletes that lost a tournament or failed at a high-profile event? They are often ‘not in the right place mentally’. You can call that a bad day. Or… athlete’s block?
Musicians might suffer a similar affliction. The composer Rachmaninoff suffered a bout of writer’s block around the beginning of the 20th century. He became so self-critical he could no longer compose, apparently.
But does it exist in less artistic fields? Comedians can have trouble thinking up new material. And how many cooks have trouble thinking up new dishes? It wouldn’t surprise me if some days, bookkeepers just can’t see the ledgers through the numbers.
And how many management and self-help books are there about creating flow. Sounds like remedies for writer’s block to me.
We should rename it ‘creative block’ instead of ‘writer’s block’. De-stigmatize it, as it were. But I suppose I’m not the first one to suggest it. And ‘writer’s block’ probably has a more memorable, slightly romantic, ring to it.