Writer's block (part 1 of 10)
The first thing to know about writer's block is that it’s not one thing.
Writer’s block is several conditions that go under one name because they share a symptom: inability to put words on a page.
Think of writer’s block as chest pain. A pain in your chest might be a symptom of a broken rib or a panic attack or a heart attack. You might be about to sweat profusely or you might have thirty-three seconds of consciousness left, ever. (Try to savor them.)
All types of writer’s block can be cured.
But it’s useful to know, as clearly as possible, what kind of block is in your way. A diagnosis is helpful.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say that there are three types of writer’s block.
You don’t even sit down to write.
This one’s easy to diagnose; your butt never touches your desk chair.
It might seem odd to think of this as writer’s block. It probably seems like laziness—and let’s not rule out that out—but most likely what’s happened is that you’ve had bad experiences that now make you desk-averse.
Your block has risen to the level of phobia.
You sit down to write, but nothing productive happens. You can’t make yourself put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
You have a story you want to tell, or were assigned to tell—a prince with long hair is saved from a dungeon by a hairstylist princess—but you’re having trouble forcing yourself to do it.
You have a sudden compulsion to click on a Yahoo link called “Cat Has Cutest Escape Ever.”
Your laundry needs folding.
You try to recreate the exact conditions that were present the last time that you had a spurt of good writing. You go to the gym, consume two caramel frappucinos, and watch a rerun of Transformers.
Finally, exhausted and deflated, you go to bed.
You have nothing to write about.
The primary symptom: existential despair.
You sit sadly at your desk and listen to the far-off sounds of an Ultimate Frisbee game, each participant having more fun than you will ever have in the rest of your life.
What is your purpose, if you decided to be a writer and have no stories to tell?
You’re a fraud.
The three types of writer’s block aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have one or two or all three simultaneously.
Left untreated, types 1 and 2 can become type 3.
Next week, we’ll learn some exercises designed to start fixing your block.
But first, diagnose yourself.
Spend some time this week noticing your main symptom: is it fear, or distractibility, or a dark cloud that settles in the front of your brain?