by Laura Michelle Thomas
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, writer’s block, a term coined in 1950, is “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.”
A “psychological inhibition.” Sounds pretty serious. Does that mean writer’s block can only be treated with $200-per-hour counselling sessions or anti-anxiety pills? Funny how the term was coined in the 1950s when counselling psychology really started to become mainstream. Anyway, it’s rubbish.
Real writers don’t get writer’s block. By “real” I mean skilled, professional writers, not wannabes.
Why don’t writers (real, working writers) get writer’s block?
Because professional writers understand the writing process and have the skills to problem solve and forge ahead, no matter how snarled a piece of writing becomes. Just as a joiner carpenter with twenty-five years experience can install kitchen cupboards when walls are not straight or plumb, a professional writer can fix weak plots and lame protagonists without loosing ground or giving up.
It might not be easy to install a challenging kitchen or juggle complex plot lines, but to the professional, it’s just part of what they do. They might step away in a moment of frustration to clear their heads, but they don’t walk away from a project. It is their job. And short of breaking their arms or their typing fingers, they will get the work done.
So what is really going on when a wannabe writer gets stuck on a piece of writing? Is it a situation that should be called writer’s block?
No. Wannabes are not yet real writers. So when they get stuck on a piece, they are not suffering from writer’s block, they are just coming up against the limits of their skill. Like the apprentice carpenter, they are in over their heads. That’s not a block, that’s a deficiency. And it’s time for more training.
The cure for moments like this is to turn to the master writer and ask for guidance.
Sometimes the master will help the apprentice realize that he or she is not ready to install an entire kitchen or to write a novel. Some of the basics need to be practiced on a smaller scale with easier projects. For the wannabe writer, that means working on short stories, short poems, blog articles, monologues, etc., before moving on to novellas, novels, and feature-length screen plays.
Seriously, no one pops out of the womb and starts writing grand novels. Talent matters, but as with any other profession, writing requires the progressive development of skills before one truly becomes a professional writer.
I wish I knew who coined the term “writer’s block,” but I don’t have access to the mighty tomes of the Oxford English Dictionary. If you happen to be reading this article from the bowels of a university library, which has the OED, please look up the term tell us who first came up with it. I would truly appreciate that.
In the meantime, when you come across those two words in your everyday travels as a wannabe writer, just remember that they refer to a condition that is not real, not for real writers. You don’t need counselling or pills. You need training. When you get stuck on a piece of writing, understand there is nothing wrong with you on some fundamental level; you just have more to learn.
Still not convinced that writer’s block is a fictional disorder?
Take a deep breath and read the title of this article out loud three times. Let the truth sink into your bones. Let the reality of this statement slip like a muzzle over the maw of your inner dragon, that voice inside that tells you your writing sucks, and just work. That’s what real writers do.