Why is Writer’s Block Even a Thing?
Why is writer's block even a thing? This is the big question that I have, and we're gonna be building a little bit of a word bank together. That's coming up in a moment. But, in the meantime, I wanna pull apart this idea of what writer's block is, right? 'Cause we're all using it, the phrase, the term, to represent the story, the story of an idea, of being stuck, of being frozen, of being unable to express yourself. And, I wanted to do some research, rather than just kind of assume that we're all on the same page with writer's block is and figure out what is writer's block and why is it a thing. So, first and foremost, I found it interesting, when you Google writer's block, you get almost 15 million results. That's more than if you search for a positive connotation like "writing flow," that thing that we all want to experience when we're expressing ourselves. And, this is twice as many results as comes up when you search for something like an actual island nation, like Trinidad and Tob...
ago. Twice as many results for writer's block than an actual place where human beings live. So, writer's block is apparently a thing, and there's a whole lot of people trying to figure out what it is, why it's going on, and also offering you solutions that are nice but don't often reveal to you what's happening beneath the surface with your writer's block, like go for a walk, make some tea, call an old friend, which is all lovely. But, when you go back to the page and you feel like that lady pulling her hair out, you're like, "Well, that was a nice distraction." Go to Google, 15 million results later, you may be in the same place that you've been in. Did you know that writer's block is called a condition? Well, the term was first coined in 1947, and there was psychological research that was done throughout the '70s and '80s. The reason that writer's block, that term itself, came into being was in that original study in 1947 when a psychologist was trying to research what is the sensation that happens with writers. And, this kind of alludes to the stigmas and the stereotypes about writers as being a bunch of drunks who are depressed, on the edge of suicide, and, you know, those really uplifting things that we get to talk about when we're talkin' about writing. So, the condition, as it were, was studied in the 1970s and '80s, as I mentioned. And, as a result, this story has become a reality, 15 million Google results later. Said to afflict people, everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Adele and loads more in between. And, yet, the reason that this term now exists is because the struggle for writing or for creative self-expression has gone back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. There's been writers, philosophers, who have been hearkening back to why is the act of self-expression, of owning who we are or expressing ourselves so troubling, so difficult. Why does it trigger all this emotional baggage and stuff that we really don't want when we're just trying to sit down and write and feel good about it and put a good message out into the world. This is an interesting result from a study that happened as recently as last year. In a 2017 survey of 25 hundred writers, 63% of respondents not only experienced writer's block, 63% experienced it so severely that they had considered quitting writing altogether. So, more than half, in this study, actually admitted that their struggle around writing, whether or not we call it writer's block, their struggle around writing, through writing, was such that is actually antagonized the feeling that maybe they should just give it up altogether, which is really tragic, it's really sad. Think about all the poems, the novels, the stories, even the blog posts that have perhaps gone unsaid, unshared as a result of this very personal, intimate struggle with the written word. So, all this to say, guys, writer's block is a thing. Writer's block is a thing, and it's real. So, we have something of an understanding that this exists, it's been around for about 70 years, at least the official "condition" of a term. And, I want to actually pull out the white board in a moment and, now that I've been doing my spouting, I'd like to actually get some of your own definitions and interpretations for what writer's block is. Like, what does it mean to you when somebody says writer's block or even when you've raised your hands to say, "I've dealt with something that "could be called writer's block in the past?" You ready to journey into the bowels of your psyche and unearth all of your baggage with me? (audience laughs) For the record, I'm not a therapist, I'm not qualified. But, I am a yogi, so it's kind of like being a pretend therapist. (audience laughs) So, guys, let's talk about what writer's block means to you. Very unofficially, I just wanna take 30 seconds, take a minute, to actually put some feelings, experiences, and emotions to this phrase, okay? So, when I say writer's block, what comes to mind? Fear.
[Woman In Audience] Lack of inspiration.
Lack of inspiration. What else?
[Woman In Audience] Frustration.
[Woman In Audience] Indecisive.
[Woman In Audience] Distraction.
Distraction. I-O-N, don't make a typo when you're on--
[Woman In Audience] Stuck.
Stuck. I also heard--
[Woman In Audience] Paralysis.
[Woman In Audience] Rejection.
Perfectionism, from online.
Paralysis with a Y, I, whatever. That's why I have an editor, guys, I gotta a whole staff of 'em. What else?
Oh, from online, we had "perfectionism."
Perfectionism, right. I'm just gonna go perf, shorthand for perfectionism.
[Woman In Audience] Criticism.
Criticism. Even, like, self-criticism, right? How about, like, guilt? (audience gasps) Ooh. (audience laughs) If you couldn't hear that, the room's breath was just collectively taken away. I'm gonna put a little star by that one. How about feeling like what you're writing is, perhaps, inviting uncertainty or lack of control in your life. Has that ever come up?
[Woman In Audience] Inadequacy, as well.
What is it?
[Woman In Audience] Inadequacy.
Inadequacy, right. So, I'm gonna put, we put self-criticism, feeling inadequate add--
[Woman In Audience] Worthiness.
[Woman In Audience] Worthiness.
Ooh, self-worth, do I deserve? Self-worth. What else guys? Open up the dark recesses of your minds.
[Woman In Audience] Procrastination.
Procrastination, absolutely. Harder and harder these days, isn't it? Procrastination. I feel like I'm in a spelling bee all of a sudden. (audience laughs)
Dave, we have a couple more.
From online, we've got TJ, who says, "Pressure." We have Kimberly who says, "Overthinking." And, we have Elizabeth who says, "Shame."
Shame, oof, yeah, absolutely. Overthinking. Starting to get scribbly now. And, let's see, what else? Stuckness, feeling like there's nothing there. Fear, lack of inspiration, distraction, indecisiveness, stuckness, paralysis, self-criticism, perfectionism, feeling inadequate, guilt, ooh, collective awe. (audience laughs) Self-worth, shame, overthinking, procrastination, welcome ladies and gentlemen to the big, beautiful world full of sunshine and rainbows that is writer's block. Can you see, guys, I wanted to just write these out and get your feedback, and, everybody at home, thank you for contributing those as well. Can you how this phrase is not exactly very helpful? Because look at how wide the net is of the emotional experiences that we go through as writers, as creatives, as humans. And, we throw every single one back to this monster, this hairy, scary monster called writer's block. Which, in itself, is fine, it's shorthand. Writer's block is shorthand for a wide mess of experiences that we have. Although, it's not really helpful to even call it writer's block, to use that word, that story. And, remember, as we said, as we all understand, writing is a reflection of the writer, but the words and the stories that we use comprise, build the house that we live in. So, here, we're guilty, as it were, of using this phrase writer's block. (Dave clicks tongue) (audience laughs) Just making sure that apostrophe's there. To refer to what else is happening beneath the surface. And what I wanna take you guys through from here for the rest of the workshop is actually pinpointing some these key shadows as I explained to you earlier. And, what those mean and why traditional writing advice, I believe, tends to send you astray when you're feeling those individual emotions. Because, we can't just keep calling it writer's block, even if, 15 million results later, we know that writer's block is a thing. In my opinion, guys, I'm enlisting you today into the revolution against writer's block. 'Cause writer's block is a thing, but it shouldn't be. And, it all begins to change when we remove the story that is writer's block from our vocabulary and, instead, replace it with what is my favorite term, avoidance.