Yes Virginia, There Really is a Writer’s Block

There are writers out there who are very clear in their opinion that there is no such thing as “Writer’s Block.” They are convinced that the phrase was invented by, I don’t know, lazy writers seeking to excuse their own lack of commitment to their work, or writers who have been duped into thinking they are victims of some kind of strange external force bearing down on them, or something. I’ve read any number of articles from writers about how Writer’s Block is a myth and it doesn’t exist and how writers should stop using the phrase immediately.

For the record: I am not one of those writers.

Writer’s Block is, to me, an extraordinarily useful phrase that is used to succinctly describe something that, if you tried to be more accurate, would take a lot more time. It is the algebraic “x” that is placeholder for an entire equation of “a situation where the writer is not writing the thing that he/she needs/wants/is contracted to/is on a deadline to write.” It describes a situation (not writing something) without making assumptions as to why, other than carrying the assumption that the writer is trying, but something isn’t working.

That the phrase isn’t terribly precise, and the “condition” itself isn’t thought to be any one thing, doesn’t really bother me. Writers of all people should be comfortable with vague, malleable ideas represented by words. I do find myself getting angry when a writer says “there is no such thing as writer’s block,” sometimes to the point where I feel my fists clenching, because seriously, Fancy Writer Person, fuck you.

One of my favorite Arguments Against the Existence of Writer’s Block is the “observation” that in no other career is there a phenomenon like it–in other words, that writers are claiming a unique condition that sets them apart from all other professions… which would be rather arrogant and presumptuous of us, if it were true. But this argument ignores every musician who ever commented on a bad performance or pratice session with the observation that “for some reason” he/she just couldn’t get into the groove, or find the rhythm, or a similar phrase. It ignores actors who talk about not being able to “find the character.” It ignores athletes who talk about being “off their game,” and we can be specific and note that Tiger Woods once switched trainers because he had “lost his swing” and wanted to get it back. Even in professions where there isn’t really a phrase that fits, the phenomenon is still there–the phenomenon where you can’t solve a problem, even though you feel you ought to. I’ve seen programmers stare at the same lines of code over and over and over again, trying to debug a program, and not be able to figure out why it isn’t working.

Haters notwithstanding, I’m going to keep using the phrase. It’s too useful: “I have writer’s block” is a lot easier to say than “well right now I can’t seem to finish the job correctly, because whatever I write feels wrong, somehow, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m psyching myself out, or if there’s a small part of me that has recognized a serious mistake I’m making, but can’t communicate that mistake coherently but somehow I’m recognizing the warning and it’s preventing me from moving forward, or if it’s because I’m feeling really self-conscious about everything I write and until I can step up and just shove the words through the grinder I’ll be making false start after false start, or if it’s because I’m too distracted by other things going on in my life and I can’t focus enough to work through this chapter, or if it’s because of some other roadblock or expectation I’ve set up for myself that I really need to recognize isn’t relevant to what I’m doing so I can move on or something else entirely but the point is that right now I’m wrestling with something and I am not currently winning, but I suspect that eventually progress will be made, but that doesn’t change the fact that right now PROGRESS IS NOT BEING MADE.”  Not only is it easier to say, it’s a more constructive thing to say to someone who asks me “how’s the writing going?” because the people who ask that question ARE NOT VOLUNTEERING TO BE MY SHRINK.

All of which comes round to: new comics, new chapters of Curveball, new chapters of The Points Between. I know it’s been a month since April, and I know I’m horribly, horribly behind schedule (horribly!) and I know you can only be patient for so long before you stop waiting, but as it happens I have Writer’s Block. I don’t know specifically what I’m working through, but I am working and eventually I’ll get past it. Maybe this post will do it, and I’ll start updating this week. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, I have Writer’s Block. So there.

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