Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Art Imitating Life, Imitating Art

I finally finished the post on Writer’s Block, but the story about the post so clearly illustrates my point, that I thought I’d frame my little essay on Writer’s Block with my essay about writing the essay on Writer’s Block.

When the idea for the essay hit, I dove into it as I generally do, but after a paragraph or so, I started to think it would make a pretty good filler article for Writer’s Digest and decided to submit it when I finished. (I’ve sold to them in the past, so it wasn’t quite as off the wall as it sounds.)

And I continued writing, but now I was conscious of what I was writing. The weight of an unseen audience began to crush me and the idea—so big and grand when I started—grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether. Then the words stopped coming.

Fortunately, I have no shortage of things to write these days, so I simply moved on. I continued to visit the languishing essay, but however hard I tried, I could not bring it back to life. At length, I gave up on the idea of sending it to WD and decided to just attack it and post whatever crap appeared.

So I wrote:

The Case for Writer’s Block

Popular opinion among writers these days has it that Writer’s Block does not exist. “Plumbers don’t get Plumber’s Block,” they tell us. “Therefore writers do not get Writer’s Block.” It’s an interesting hypothesis, but they are comparing apples and oranges, or more to the point, writers and plumbers.

A plumber may be a craftsman but his skill relies on manual, not mental dexterity. He has likely received training in his trade, he has probably taken tests and, at some point, someone has pronounced him a plumber. Doubts are not a part of his day. He doesn’t lie awake thinking, “Who am I kidding; I’m not a plumber. Everyone must know I’m a fake. I’m probably the worse plumber there ever was. Maybe I should try being a bricklayer, instead.” If they did, I expect they would take more time off from work, and they would put it down to Plumber’s Block.

But writers whose synapses have seized up—and more than a few successful writers claim to suffer still—are expected to face the blank page every day and dredge something up from the echoing, empty depths of their minds. And not just anything; it needs to be worthy, yet marketable; new enough to keep their readers surprised, yet and similar enough to keep them comfortable. Is it any wonder many writers are frozen by stark terror at the thought of hitting the first key? The writer’s mind is where their work comes from, it is the part of their being that must be functioning properly in order for them to do their work, and if it is blocked by fear or self-doubt, then they are unable to perform. This is Writer’s Block.

Besides, plumbers actually do get Plumbers Block; it’s called the flu. If they have it, the part of their being required to carry out their tasks won’t function, blocking them from doing their work as thoroughly as if they were a writer shackled by insecurity. (For the record, I’d rather wrestle with stifling emotions; writer’s block doesn’t stop me from going down to the pub.)

The only problem with writer’s block is, unlike the flu, you can’t really use it as an excuse to bunk off if you want to be a professional, and that’s where we get the notion that it doesn’t exist. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t real; it just means you can’t give in to it.

And I don’t think that’s fair; after all, no one expects a plumber to show up for work when he has the flu.


I looked over what I wrote and felt rather pleased with myself. I’d broken my writer’s block and produced something that was probably good enough to submit to Writer’s Digest after all, and I proposed to do just that as soon as I got home. To celebrate, I packed away my laptop, pulled out my new edition of Writer’s Digest and settled in for a good read. And there, on page 62, was a filler article on Writer’s Block.

At least they saved me the angst of composing a cover letter.


  1. fabulous ending! i loved it.
    adding you to my list of favorite blogs...there are only 3 so far so this is a place of great standing.

    my blog is:

    it is designed to support my art business called Art Imitating Life!

    thanks for a great blog! karen

  2. This does it for writer's blog. It can't go any further, or it becomes writer's run. Good job.

  3. Karen: I didn't steal your title, honest ;)

    Lakeviewer: From my lack of posting, you'd think I was still suffering from it. But now it's just Writer Is Too Lazy syndrome

  4. Your post reminde me of this:-

    No Writer’s Block Here Then…

    When you come to writer’s circle,
    it’s quickly plain to see
    that learned people in it
    ate a diction’ry for tea:
    spread their bread with words of honey,
    sprinkled commas in their soup,
    then mixed a dash of laughter.
    What a great, assorted group!.

    We’ve poets, playwrights, novelists
    and storytellers too;
    (plus people who write articles
    and get them published – phew!)
    Will I ever emulate, with anything I write,
    their multifarious talents?
    Well…. I suppose…. I might!

  5. Jinksy: Thanks for the poetic interlude ;)