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Aug
10
2021

Writers Block Isn't Real -- by M. A. Swaim

Remember in the Matrix where Neo goes to the Oracle and he meets the child with the spoon in the waiting room? The child says, "There is no spoon. ...it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself," then precedes to bend the spoon at will with his mind. Well Neos of CC, there is no writer's block, there is only writer's avoidance.

Often times as writers, we can feel that no matter what we do, no matter what we try, we're blocked. Blocked off from all that amazing content in our brains that we know is stuck in there. Yet, no matter how much we want to get these great ideas out onto a page, we don't. We tell ourselves that it's not our fault. The words just won't come like they used to. It's an off day, week, month, or even year. The truth, while not always an easy thing to accept, is simple. It's us.

The truth is, writer's avoidance is real and only we have the power to fix it.

But what is writer's avoidance?

Writer's avoidance is whenwe don't write because we don't want to experience the negativity that we've come to attribute to the writing process. I've had some writers tell me they stopped writing after a particularly nasty review. Others have told me they stopped because the last time they wrote it was unproductive. I've even shied away from writing on a particular story when I'd been writing it for so long and it just wasn't as fun as it had been in the beginning. All of these experiences are unpleasant. So ask yourself, have you ever done something unpleasant and then done it again? Sure, the answer is probably yes, I have a 9-5, too. But if you didn't have to, would you?

That's the thing about writing, especially when many of us are not fulltime authors. We don't have to come back to the work. It's only if we want to. It's a labor of love, as they say.

So what are some practical ways we can overcome avoidance?

The first step is realizing that this is a mental issue and so it must be overcome mentally. Our brains are tools, but it's our job to program them right.

Time Blocking

Many writers set up a specific time that they write. I write every day between 9pm-10pm at the very least. My wife knows I'm busy during this time. I often write beside her on the couch or in our office. Even still, she knows not to ask me to do anything during that time unless it's an emergency. Having a specific time helps to train our brains that this is what we do every day from this time to that time, there is nothing else so get used to it squishy. After 30 days, the habit is formed and you'll sit down to write on auto pilot. Like when you arrive at the office and realize you don't remember driving at all.

Story Swapping

Finding yourself in your seat might not be your issue. You might find yourself sitting down only to stare at the blank screen for your entire session. This is when we need to address the reason we are avoiding. If we're bored of our current story, a great way to get out of avoiding is to write a different story. We stay writing and we learn new things so that when we go back to our main project, we're better than when we put it on hold. This can also be done in reverse when we're getting bored of the new story. Once we've been on the new story long enough, we might run into the same problem. That's okay, I have ADHD, too. I bounce between three projects when using this technique to keep the projects feeling fresh and exciting. Be careful with this technique as it can lead to story abandonment. Make sure to check back in with the other story from time to time. If the joy doesn't return after a decent break, then maybe it wasn't meant to be.

Character/Scene Swapping

I find that when I have unproductive sessions, a great writing exercise that gets us around avoiding the project is to write the same chapter from another character's perspective. Taking the spotlight off our main characters and giving it to a side character can help, not only in getting through the scene that's been trapped in our mind's eye for days or years, but it also allows us to dive deeper into our secondary characters and get to know them better. It doesn't even need to be a character that is there in the real story. The main character is being harassed by an old lady but we just couldn't get the old lady to sound right? Drop our goofy sidekick in there and see how the old lady handles him instead. Or maybe drop the villain in to see her reaction. Even taking the old lady and writing her in a different scene helps. This way, we're still working on the same project, but we're tackling it from a new angle, one that hasn't left us with a bad taste in our mouths before.

The Final Hurdle

The last thing to train your brain on is the simple reality that no matter what our job is, the work will always push back at some point. This is natural. This is our brain saying, "I'm bored. I want something different." But we know better. We know we want to write. This is where our passion lies. This is where we want to be. Our brains are like five-year-olds, they don't know. They just think they know. "I want to be an astronaut." Yea? Well that's not happening, pal. I'm thirty and barely passed high school math, nobody's sending me to space. Accepting the reality that the work is going to feel like work sometimes is just another step in the amazing journey that we decided we wanted to take. Don't shy away from it. It means that you're doing it! You're on your way to becoming an author.

 

Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Posted by M. A. Swaim 10 Aug 2021 at 02:12
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Responses to this blog

Botanist 10 Aug 2021 at 03:14  
I wrote a booklet about writers block a few years back. You've hit on a number of good points here, and some techniques to get past that "staring at a blank screen" feeling.

When I find myself stuck, I've had a lot of success looking for blind spots in my understanding of the story. Can I describe the scene in front of me? Do I know who's present and what they are doing? Do I understand why they're here and what they want? Do I know how this scene ties in to the story around it? I like your categorization of avoidance, and I believe the "blank screen" feeling is usually my subconscious avoiding putting words down because there's something vital missing.
Leglessme 10 Aug 2021 at 06:49  
Two of my favorite authors got writers block. I don't understand how people can say this doesn't exist. They blew by deadlines which became years. I think there are methods that can work for some people, but nothing is a universal panacea.
__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

Attaree 10 Aug 2021 at 07:14  
Writer's block is real in my case. Lucky you if you've never had it.
Ajaker 10 Aug 2021 at 07:28  
I've come to be sceptical of writer's block advice because there's as many causes of writer's block as there are writers. It's all helpful advice, but it might not be the key that particular writer needs to help them. I think every person experiencing writer's block needs to find out what's causing it for them and then tackle it. For me, it was laziness - writing is hard. As soon as I realised that, just after finishing my first novel, that was that. No more writer's block, and now I can write at any time (but certainly practice has also helped me get there).

The only two exceptions to this are burnout and anything involving mental health.
Don't mess with your mental health, guys
__________________
I'm a freelance developmental editor:
ratcliffediting.com

Maswaim 10 Aug 2021 at 14:10  
Attaree
Writer's block is real in my case. Lucky you if you've never had it.
How so? I've experienced many reasons that caused me not to write. I've just never had the issue where, despite putting forth effort and having the will to write, I can't seem to put words to a page (even if they might not be the best of words). I'm genuinely interested in hearing about what it's like to experience writer's block that isn't writer's avoidance.
__________________
Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Maswaim 10 Aug 2021 at 14:25  
Leglessme
Two of my favorite authors got writers block. I don't understand how people can say this doesn't exist. They blew by deadlines which became years. I think there are methods that can work for some people, but nothing is a universal panacea.
So my question about these authors would be; was their imagination blocked to where they couldn't think of what to write, or was there some other issue that cause them to avoid engaging in their writing? I whole-heartily agree that some methods work for some while not for others, but there are other methods to work for others. I'm just of the belief that there is no mystical problem called Writer's Block, but there are other issues that writers experience that keep them from writing. Rather than throw up the defense that we have writer's block, it's more helpful to look at what is causing us to stall out in our writing, and address that issue to get past our problem. The first step is admitting we have a problem while claiming writer's block is a denial that the issue is something that we have control over.
I hope that helps clarify my view on writer's block. Let me know what you think.

__________________
Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Leglessme 10 Aug 2021 at 16:10  
I wasn't personally acquainted with the two authors, so their exact situations were never known to me. I just know they were churning out books until suddenly they weren't anymore.

I know many people who advocate working through "writer's block" yet they do not tell people "It's not real" either. I suppose I'm not objecting to saying "look for the cause" as that's always a good step to solve any and all problems.

It's the statement that it's not real that bothers me.

I'm old enough to remember a time when people with excruciating back pain were assessed by medical experts and told the pain is "all in their head." The doctors couldn't find the cause as the back actually isn't an area where injury is easy to see. Injuries can be very small, hard to catch. So, these sufferers, in the main, were given a blanket statement by the experts—their pain didn't really exist. Ditto with depression, as well.

The psychology branch of medicine has been working for decades to see what writer's block is and how it can be combated. Psychology Today posted an article that's very saavy and helpful, suggesting it's a treatable condition. In no way shape or form does this expert using other experts' research tell writers "it isn't real." Oddly enough, here is an interesting article mentioning a medical treatment for anxiety/depression sufferers for whom pills do no work. It's a magnetic stimulation of the brain and has also been used by the military to help G.I.s be more aware in battle situations, as well as to treat Traumatic Brain Injury. It's also being studied as a cure for writer's block based on the experience of a award winning writer who had the treatment and mentioned it during a public talk. He said that after the treatment he wrote three novels in a six month period. He also said he'd never done that before. That article is here. What I feel it suggests is, like we now know about back pain and depression/anxiety, as well as TBI, that writer's block is in fact real and there's a cause for it in our brains. It is a condition, not writing avoidance, unless left untreated.
__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

Maswaim 10 Aug 2021 at 19:30  
I think see what you're saying. Denial of an issue is not the right answer. My opinion that writer's block is not real is invalidating those who are experiencing difficulty in getting their thoughts onto a page. That's fair, and you're right. Denial of an issue is unhealthy.

Let me try to clarify, and I'll use the articles that you linked. They were interesting reads that I think are very helpful. Let me also just add that I am not trying to be combative. I love that we are having this discussion, and that I hope it helps people with their struggles in writing.
In the first article linked, they list four things that cause the block, Fear of Failure, Rejection and Success and then plain lack of motivation. Those are all specific issues which are very real. What's happening is that to hide that fear of failure, a person put's up something less scary, or less difficult to admit; Writer's Block. 'It's not a big deal, I'll get over it soon enough, I just have writers block. I'm not scared that if I finish writing I'll be rejected or that people won't be interested in my work, I just can't write because I'm blocked.' That's why I'm saying it's not real. It's a catch-all statement that hides the real issue. If a person has anxiety or depression, those sound like much more serious issues than simple writer's block, and that can be scary to try to tackle. Imagine if I had two broken hands and I claimed writers block. That would be ridiculous. My hands don't work, I can't write. It's when we get into mental issues that we use the catch-all of writer's block to hide behind.
The same thing happens in the second article. In that article there's another link to the story behind the treatment. In that they say, “A lot of things can block you. People are most often blocked by negative criticism. […] Some writers get anxious. They set unrealistic deadlines for themselves, or they feel undue pressure with their work. And those worries block the creative process.” Those are the real issues, the fear of criticism, the pressure of the work. One of the people who went through the treatment stated, “Forrest was able to direct me to the exact issue[…] The next day my mind came up with more answers as to what was blocking me.” He had an underlying issue, as he called it, an "exact issue." He wasn't just blocked by nothing.
Writer's block isn't a medical condition on it's own, it's the symptom of a condition. Fear, anxiety, stress, depression.

What my post saying that there is no writers block is meant to get at is, writers block is the safe, easy to face excuse for not writing. There are real reasons a person can't write and those are the issues that need to be addressed, but the first step in doing so is to face the fact that something real is in the way, not a nebulous excuse of writer's block.
__________________
Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Leglessme 10 Aug 2021 at 19:46  
Maswaim

Let me also just add that I am not trying to be combative. I love that we are having this discussion, and that I hope it helps people with their struggles in writing.
This goes for myself as well. My husband, brother, stepdaughter, father-in-law, two best friends all struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD and various forms of panic attacks. I've seen how hurtful it has been when people say, "Just cheer up!" or something similar. It actually is something they cannot help unless treated. Which leads me to this other statement.
Maswaim
Writer's block isn't a medical condition on it's own, it's the symptom of a condition. Fear, anxiety, stress, depression.
All of those are contributing factors to not being able to do a lot of things. They are real in the sense they are psychologically impactful. Some people cannot even get a job, or clean the house, or take care of themselves due to those factors listed. Yes, it is not a medical condition on it's own. However, I think what you might have said is that Writer's Block, while real in many cases, also is a victim's cry of "I can't do it! I'm broken!" which becomes the crutch/excuse that's easy instead of rooting out the issues underlying the problem. I suggest that, if you'd stated it as this distinction, you would have allow those who read your article to feel validated in what they feel is Writer's Block, also taking hope that there's something they can try to get out of it.

__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

Attaree 11 Aug 2021 at 03:35  
Maswaim
Attaree
Writer's block is real in my case. Lucky you if you've never had it.
How so? I've experienced many reasons that caused me not to write. I've just never had the issue where, despite putting forth effort and having the will to write, I can't seem to put words to a page (even if they might not be the best of words). I'm genuinely interested in hearing about what it's like to experience writer's block that isn't writer's avoidance.
According to you, you've never had writer's block. Therefore, based on never having had it, you've decided there's no such thing. Let me see if I can describe how it feels, not entirely but a glimpse of the issue. I want to be clear this is not how the experience works; this is how the experience feels:

Imagine you're a hummingbird caught inside a Mason jar. You'd desperately like to leave the jar. No nourishment, no hydration, limited oxygen. But guess what. There's a block.

Botanist 11 Aug 2021 at 04:18  
I view writers block not as the malady but as a symptom. Just like a high temperature can be a symptom of many different illnesses, you need to diagnose the illness in order to treat it. I believe it's the same with writers block.

Ajaker is right to say there are many different causes. I also wouldn't try to say it's not real. The symptom is very real. My position is that if you can figure out the cause then it is usually treatable.
__________________
Life is not a spectator sport.
Blog: Views From the Bald Patch Web site: Ian S Bott, writer and artist

Alhambra 11 Aug 2021 at 11:46  
Since I don't have enough writing experience but have a lot of experience with motivating others to do their job, I'd address the issue on a more general level of the loss of motivation.
I've seen way too many cases where talented and capable people lost the ability to perform adequately. I'm talking about paid jobs that they needed in order to provide for their families. They were procrastinating beyond deadlines or not able to start a project etc.
Loss of motivation is very difficult to deal with. Usually, it's caused by burnout or by other commitments that are more important / interesting at the moment, insecurities, feeling their skills are no longer relevant. Depression, middle-age crisis too.

Surely, there are parallels to writing.
Shanima 11 Aug 2021 at 12:18  
Alhambra
Since I don't have enough writing experience but have a lot of experience with motivating others to do their job, I'd address the issue on a more general level of the loss of motivation.
I've seen way too many cases where talented and capable people lost the ability to perform adequately. I'm talking about paid jobs that they needed in order to provide for their families. They were procrastinating beyond deadlines or not able to start a project etc.
Loss of motivation is very difficult to deal with. Usually, it's caused by burnout or by other commitments that are more important / interesting at the moment, insecurities, feeling their skills are no longer relevant. Depression, middle-age crisis too.

Surely, there are parallels to writing.
But this is precisely the problem with the term "writer's block". It implies that it's a phenomenon only experienced by writers (and therefore non-writers would not understand it). All creatives and people of all professions struggle with their work from time to time.

If it is burnout, fear, depression etc., call it for what it actually is instead of using a scapegoat.
Maswaim 11 Aug 2021 at 15:08  
Attaree
Maswaim
Attaree
Writer's block is real in my case. Lucky you if you've never had it.
How so? I've experienced many reasons that caused me not to write. I've just never had the issue where, despite putting forth effort and having the will to write, I can't seem to put words to a page (even if they might not be the best of words). I'm genuinely interested in hearing about what it's like to experience writer's block that isn't writer's avoidance.
According to you, you've never had writer's block. Therefore, based on never having had it, you've decided there's no such thing. Let me see if I can describe how it feels, not entirely but a glimpse of the issue. I want to be clear this is not how the experience works; this is how the experience feels:

Imagine you're a hummingbird caught inside a Mason jar. You'd desperately like to leave the jar. No nourishment, no hydration, limited oxygen. But guess what. There's a block.

Thank you for sharing that, I see what you're saying there. That's an excellent metaphor. That would feel like a horribly helpless situation.

In your metaphor, the writer is the bird and living free outside of the jar is writing. But what is the jar? Is the jar fear? Is it stress? Anxiety? Perfectionism? Depression? There is something blocking us, but it's not 'Writer's Block,' it's something real and manageable. It can feel like being trapped in a jar with no way out, that's extremely true. And we may not be able to open the jar on our own, we might need a friend or a professional to come loosen the lid. But it is up to us to ask for help, to recognize what the jar is, and to push the lid off. If we sit in the jar and say that there's no way out, we'll wither and die.
That's our dream of completing a book/becoming a novelist dying in there. We need to do everything we can to get out of the jar, but when we imagine that the jar is just something that happens from time to time, I'm flying around and then suddenly I'm locked in a jar with no way out and there's nothing to be done, we are slowly killing our dream. Each time we're stuck in this impossible situation, we build these mental blocks that say, 'Writing isn't fun. I get stuck and it feels terrible.' Eventually, we quit. By dropping the idea that writer's block is to blame, we unshackle ourselves from the helplessness. And by identifying what the jar truly is, we can start the process of getting out.

I say writer's block isn't real, because it's just a mask for some other issue that's causing us to stop forward progression. Hiding behind it is a coping mechanism so we don't have to face the larger root issue, whatever it may be.
I hope that helps clarify my view point on that.

__________________
Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Leglessme 12 Aug 2021 at 06:25  
Maswaim
I say writer's block isn't real, because it's just a mask for some other issue that's causing us to stop forward progression. Hiding behind it is a coping mechanism so we don't have to face the larger root issue, whatever it may be.
I hope that helps clarify my view point on that.
Um—I'm glad you aren't in the same room as my hubby.

Remember where you said it's unhealthy to invalidate people's experiences? Here, allow me to quote:

Maswaim
I think see what you're saying. Denial of an issue is not the right answer. My opinion that writer's block is not real is invalidating those who are experiencing difficulty in getting their thoughts onto a page. That's fair, and you're right. Denial of an issue is unhealthy.
Now, I'm not so sure what you're saying. Or that I believe you. What you're saying is "this isn't real" when it would be better said, "it is real, but can become a crutch if the root cause is not addressed. XYZ can be a start in addressing the underlying issues." Why can't you say this? Is there some reason you admit to me saying writer's block is not real is invalidating those who are experiencing "difficulty getting their thoughts onto a page," then tell me I'm right, yet, you continue throughout this thread to tell people "writer's block is not real"? This makes your statement that you are invalidating those sufferer's experience meaningless and, frankly, tears them down instead of building them up to get the help they might need. Right now, in my eyes, you are every bit as bad as the people who say to men suffering from clinical depression, "Just cheer up. Be a man!" Men with depression are committing suicide in record numbers. Is this healthy to invalidate them? If so, it's unhealthy to invalidate anyone with writer's block.

You owe people an apology.

__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

Attaree 12 Aug 2021 at 08:01  
I'm not hiding behind writer's block, which in my case is real. I'm not totally blocked, but my production is not what I'd like for it to be, and what I'm producing is not typical. The way I understand this, once I recognize my underlying issues, I should be able to analyze those issues and thus eradicate my symptom.

Let's have some fun. I'll tell you what I THINK my issues are, and those of you who say there is no writer's block can tell me how to fix the issues.

I believe these are my issues:

Covid, followed by Long Covid, including a heart attack. Extensive brain fog, with some improvement after vaccination. Fatigue, weakness. Low stamina.

Recent loss of family members to accidental death in separate events. No condolences, please.

Loss of work during the pandemic. Really miss my job, but getting back on the road is too risky. I'm in the most vulnerable group, over 80. No financial issues.

Serious insomnia, which leaves me perpetually dazed.

I am reclusive and have a lifelong fear of success.

I dread publishing, either traditionally (hate the idea of losing control) or Indie (hate the idea of having to learn the system.) See no desirable choice.

What I understand is that now that I've identified my underlying issues (and I believe that I have) I should be able to address these issues and put them to rest, thereby eradicating my symptom, which I call writer's block. I'm open to all practical suggestions.
Glitterpen 12 Aug 2021 at 08:55  
Attaree

Loss of work during the pandemic. Really miss my job, but getting back on the road is too risky. I'm in the most vulnerable group, over 80. No financial issues.
I hope you don't mind me chiming in. Have you found any fun activities to replace it? Maybe yoga on Zoom? Or just pleasure reading? I'd take it easy and let the body rest. It sounds like you've been through hell.

I am reclusive and have a lifelong fear of success.

I know you're not published, but your writing is so good that I always considered you a success (I'd love to have half your writing skills). I read that success could trigger similar feelings of any trauma that you might have gone through. I'm not not sure how that's treated...I don't know much about the phobia.

I dread publishing, either traditionally (hate the idea of losing control) or Indie (hate the idea of having to learn the system.) See no desirable choice.
I could see your work being picked up by someone like Penguin. Instead of thinking of the loss of control, maybe focus on what working with other really good people can do for you. If you focus on doing what's best for the book, the fear of success for yourself might diminish. Make it all about the book.
__________________
"A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”—Richard Bach

Maswaim 12 Aug 2021 at 14:25  
Attaree
Let's have some fun. I'll tell you what I THINK my issues are, and those of you who say there is no writer's block can tell me how to fix the issues.
I'm very glad to see that you've taken a serious look at yourself and identified the issues that are holding you back.

According to what you listed, it sounds like you have fear, depression and brain fog. These are serious issues that people of CC are probably only going to be able to tackle your fear issue. Depression needs professional help. Brain fog also requires professional help, if there even is any, I'm not even sure if there's treatment or medication for that. I have no idea, ask your doctor about that. So I'm not going to sit here and tell you what I think you could do for your depression or brain fog. I've never had brain fog, and depression requires that we get to the root issues, which would not be something I'm able to do.

Fear, however, is something I can speak on. Fear is a natural response but it's only meant to be a warning. We associate fear with negative responses, which is understandable. When we're afraid we often make poor, rash decisions in situations that have high risk/high reward, and we end up getting hurt one way or another, and that reinforces the idea that fear means we're in for a bad experience. The old quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt of 'There is nothing to fear but fear itself' changed my perspective on dealing with fear from a young age. Another quote that I really identified with came from a terrible movie. It said, 'Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.' It's the end that I really agree with. Fear is a choice. When we're in the fear, clouded by the emotion, it's very easy to let that fear dictate our actions and hide the our avenues of choices. When we're able to step back and move outside of the fear, we're able to make choices that may not have been clearly available while we were in the fear, feeling it.
I also have the fear of losing control over my work. And while that might hold me back from traditional publishing (I'll cross that bridge when I reach it) it doesn't stop me from writing. I have multiple books planned and framed out. If I let the fear of publishing get to me, that doesn't mean I can't have those 12 book fully done on my computer. I can still choose to write. I've also kept writing even when I had fear about the ending of a book. At the end of one of my stories, I grew worried about how it was going to be received by readers so while I held off on the ending, I still wrote other chapters of that story. I went back over written chapters and did edits while I worked out the issue of my fear about the ending.
Fear can be a real hindrance, but it's manageable. Even if we don't overcome the fear, if we step back and look at the issue, we can compartmentalize that issue, put it to the side and deal with it later while we continue to proceed with other parts of the writing process.

I hope this helps some. Best of luck in your writing.
__________________
Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Maswaim 12 Aug 2021 at 15:07  
Leglessme
Maswaim
I say writer's block isn't real, because it's just a mask for some other issue that's causing us to stop forward progression. Hiding behind it is a coping mechanism so we don't have to face the larger root issue, whatever it may be.
I hope that helps clarify my view point on that.
Um—I'm glad you aren't in the same room as my hubby.

Remember where you said it's unhealthy to invalidate people's experiences? Here, allow me to quote:

Maswaim
I think see what you're saying. Denial of an issue is not the right answer. My opinion that writer's block is not real is invalidating those who are experiencing difficulty in getting their thoughts onto a page. That's fair, and you're right. Denial of an issue is unhealthy.
Now, I'm not so sure what you're saying. Or that I believe you. What you're saying is "this isn't real" when it would be better said, "it is real, but can become a crutch if the root cause is not addressed. XYZ can be a start in addressing the underlying issues." Why can't you say this? Is there some reason you admit to me saying writer's block is not real is invalidating those who are experiencing "difficulty getting their thoughts onto a page," then tell me I'm right, yet, you continue throughout this thread to tell people "writer's block is not real"? This makes your statement that you are invalidating those sufferer's experience meaningless and, frankly, tears them down instead of building them up to get the help they might need. Right now, in my eyes, you are every bit as bad as the people who say to men suffering from clinical depression, "Just cheer up. Be a man!" Men with depression are committing suicide in record numbers. Is this healthy to invalidate them? If so, it's unhealthy to invalidate anyone with writer's block.

You owe people an apology.
That is not what I'm saying at all.
There is no writer's block, there is clinical depression. There is no writer's block, there is fear of success. There is no writer's block, there is the choice to avoid. Writer's block is used by writers as a crutch to hide their true issue. That is miles away from saying 'Just cheer up. Be a man.' I'm not telling people their problems are not real, I'm saying that the diagnosis of Writer's block isn't real. If anything is close to 'Just cheer up. Be a man,' it's 'Don't worry, you just have Writer's Block,' because supporting the belief that writer's block is a real diagnosis of the issue, that is a failure to truly address the issue.
Last time you had writer's block, did you go to the doctor for it? Did they write in your medical sheet that you were suffering from writer's block? No. No doctor has diagnosed a patient with writer's block, they drill down and they find out what causes the writer to avoid sitting down and writing.

If it helps anyone to tackle the issue by saying writer's block is a symptom of a deeper issue and therefor it is real but they understand that the only way to address the symptom is by dealing with the true issue, that's fine. Whatever helps people deal with their issue. It helped me to disregard the cliched idea that as a writer, I'm prone to some strange block that could strike at any time, so I say writer's block isn't real. If someone comes to me and says I have writer's block because I'm suffering from depression, I say, no, you have depression, talk to a doctor. If someone says they have writer's block because they XYZ, I say, no, you have XYZ, talk to you doctor/family/help group. I skip the step of blaming writer's block because I see it as a waste of time and energy. My opinion of saying there's a deeper issue so just skip writer's block is not a dangerous opinion like disregarding men's mental health. The reason it's not the same is because I'm not saying, 'Writer's Block isn't real, get over it.' I'm saying, 'Writer's Block isn't real, it's something else and much worse and much more serious that you need to address, so get on it.'

The comment that you're glad I'm not in the same room as your hubby was extremely aggressive and not appreciated. You might not agree with what I'm saying, and that's more than fine, but that kind of veiled aggression shuts down conversation/debate.

__________________
Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Ldv 12 Aug 2021 at 15:11  
I think it comes down to two things: fear of failure and accepting the ups and downs of energy levels, in this case, creative energy levels. I have found that morning pages help and the 54321 method.
Leglessme 12 Aug 2021 at 16:19  
Maswaim

That is not what I'm saying at all.
There is no writer's block, there is clinical depression. There is no writer's block, there is fear of success. There is no writer's block, there is the choice to avoid. Writer's block is used by writers as a crutch to hide their true issue. That is miles away from saying 'Just cheer up. Be a man.' I'm not telling people their problems are not real, I'm saying that the diagnosis of Writer's block isn't real. If anything is close to 'Just cheer up. Be a man,' it's 'Don't worry, you just have Writer's Block,' because supporting the belief that writer's block is a real diagnosis of the issue, that is a failure to truly address the issue.
Last time you had writer's block, did you go to the doctor for it? Did they write in your medical sheet that you were suffering from writer's block? No. No doctor has diagnosed a patient with writer's block, they drill down and they find out what causes the writer to avoid sitting down and writing.

If it helps anyone to tackle the issue by saying writer's block is a symptom of a deeper issue and therefor it is real but they understand that the only way to address the symptom is by dealing with the true issue, that's fine. Whatever helps people deal with their issue. It helped me to disregard the cliched idea that as a writer, I'm prone to some strange block that could strike at any time, so I say writer's block isn't real. If someone comes to me and says I have writer's block because I'm suffering from depression, I say, no, you have depression, talk to a doctor. If someone says they have writer's block because they XYZ, I say, no, you have XYZ, talk to you doctor/family/help group. I skip the step of blaming writer's block because I see it as a waste of time and energy. My opinion of saying there's a deeper issue so just skip writer's block is not a dangerous opinion like disregarding men's mental health. The reason it's not the same is because I'm not saying, 'Writer's Block isn't real, get over it.' I'm saying, 'Writer's Block isn't real, it's something else and much worse and much more serious that you need to address, so get on it.'

The comment that you're glad I'm not in the same room as your hubby was extremely aggressive and not appreciated. You might not agree with what I'm saying, and that's more than fine, but that kind of veiled aggression shuts down conversation/debate.
My comment about not being in the same room as my hubby was not intended to be a veiled threat. I do apologize if that's how it came off. In fact, Ashe's (my husband) experiences are pertinent to this debate, I just didn't have his permission until now to relate them. I value his privacy. Also, he's far better with verbal fencing and has zero tolerance for what he feels is wrong.

Ashe suffers from anxiety, depression, untreatable insomnia (yes, the doctors have tried a few things which all ended up not working), sleep apnea (he has a C-Pap) and has panic attacks. He also suffers from writer's block. While I, myself have only had a day or two of such feelings before I snap out of it, he has the "symptom" of writer's block a lot. Even with his meds and such, he still gets writer's block. This isn't a fear or anxiety about writing for him. He wants to write. He's frustrated in the extreme when he can't write, even though he's trying his level best. Sometimes I can motivate him in clever ways but it only lasts a few days. It's a real issue for him despite having any and all underlying conditions treated.

Ashe is actually a paid writer, creating content for a block chain video game developer. He writes the background for the game world as well as creating characters for the game to sell, plus whatever incidental pieces they need. At the moment he's their lead creator for this written content. He has deadlines. He meets them. He muddles through. He tries new things he reads about to see if they have an effect on him hoping it will turn on his writing mojo. However, he stares at a blank page until he realizes he's been doing that for hours. He doesn't use writer's block as an excuse. Yet, there are whole weeks and months he is unable to produce words on a page. For him it's a real thing. It is very much not a crutch to avoidance.

Me? I sit down and just go. If my brain isn't focused, I figure out a way to focus using several techniques I've learned over the years.

So the question is this, if you have all these things taken care of and you still have issues getting words regularly from your brain to a page of some sort, is it still not real?

BTW, you're not the only writer to say there's no such thing as writer's block. Nora Roberts famously said it's not a real thing, it means you're not a good writer.
__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

Cwotus 12 Aug 2021 at 17:31  
The older I get, the more I appreciate nuance in statements and responses, the more I understand that there is almost no statement that can be made without fear of contradiction or error.

I tend to state this idea a different way, to encourage research and better understanding instead of closing it off: The problem is never what the problem seems to be. Put another way, when your refrigerator is flooding because it's iced up with undrained condensation, "the icing and the flooding" are only symptoms of the basic problem. It doesn't mean that your refrigerator isn't lined with ice, or that the water pooling in the bottom isn't there, and it doesn't mean that those things aren't problems in their own right, but it does mean that those are not the main problem.

This is all by way of a minor domestic victory I had at my son's house a couple of weeks ago: his freezer compartment was collecting water, and he thought he had done all the diagnostics that the YouTube videos were showing him. He located the freezer compartment / condenser drain line, and thought he had thawed it by pouring hot water onto it (and maybe he had), but the problem wasn't going away. He was looking for "a bigger fix", and "is this appliance no longer functioning?"

I was able to diagnose and predict what the problem would be without even opening the freezer door: I told him the drain line was blocked. I asked him to check whether, when he poured hot water in at the top, it would drain at the bottom, which would prove that there is a drain line blockage, which will prove to be the actual problem. About a half-hour later we were able to conclusively prove the theory, and when he reinstalled the cleaned drain line, the apparent problem vanished. The "apparent problem" had never been the problem.

This is not to say that freezing on surfaces in your refrigerator, and failure of the self-defrost features to work properly are not problems: they are. But they're symptoms of a more basic and fundamental problem, and if you don't resolve that one, then the "apparent" problem will re-surface. Eventually you will die. Well, that was maybe over the top. Eventually we all die, whether our refrigerators work properly or not.

The point is that when your refrigerator isn't working right, it can be difficult to concentrate on a problem outside the refrigerator—where the drain line exists—to resolve the very real problem inside the appliance. While writer's block is a problem, it's not the fundamental problem, and trying to solve it with superficial methods ignores that the problem is coming from a different place.

Most humans seem to be more complex than most refrigerators—see how I avoid absolutes?—so it's not always so easy to say "check the drain line". I don't like where that metaphor leads, anyway, if we try to apply it to humans. The only point I'm trying to make is that "the problem you see" is not usually "the real problem".
Maswaim 12 Aug 2021 at 20:38  
Leglessme
So the question is this, if you have all these things taken care of and you still have issues getting words regularly from your brain to a page of some sort, is it still not real?
Two things, addressing the wording of your question directly, I wonder what 'taken care of' means. Like, I'm diagnosed with depression, is that 'taken care of' in this regard? I've identified my largest issue, but that doesn't mean I don't still suffer from the effects. So while I manage that issue, I personally wouldn't put that under the category of 'taken care of.' I have to constantly manage that, among other things. And that's life.

But addressing what I think is the heart of the question, I'd say this. I think we are using 'writer's block' in two different ways at this point. You seem to be noting reasons behind the block. The compounding issues that can cause us to do exactly what you mentioned. I've been there. Looking at a screen for hours and having gotten no where. Those are all real blocks. The writer's block that I am saying is not real is the ephemeral, catch-all block, the magic bullet excuse of writer's block. The mythical phenomena that all writers must combat at some point in their career.

It doesn't sound like you or your husband uses it as a crutch. The two of you are aware of the issues that cause him to stumble and the use of the term 'writer's block' between the two of you is a way of expressing his issues without listing them. You're noting the end result, he's having trouble writing, but you've taken the time to dig deeper to look at what can be causing the issue. What I've seen though, is that many people claim they have writer's block, period. They don't dig. They just let it sit. They expect the block is a natural occurrence, a natural phenomena that all writer's go through, and it will just go away with time. And that might be true in some cases, but even if it does go away on it's own, it's likely to return when the underlying issues don't go away and when frustration sets in and other problems compound the issues, the writer is left in what they perceive as a helpless situation.
These people are often misunderstanding when they hear someone say, writer's block. They hear people who are substituting it for the real issue in a nicer way. So like this. If I were talking to a co-worker, who I don't know on a personal level, and I was going to tell them I failed to write anything on one particular day, I could use the term writer's block, because I don't want to tell them I suffer from crippling bouts of depression. That's not something they need to hear, that light conversation of, 'hey what did you do this weekend?' does not need to be brought into a suddenly stark conversation about depression. But when I talk to my spouse/doctor/close friends/ and most important, SELF about failing to produce words on a page, I'm going to open up and be honest; I couldn't write anything because I was busy wrestling my depression. But if someone overheard that first conversation with the co-worker, they would hear that I just had writer's block. Then, when they feel some sort of block they might assume it's that natural phenomena they've heard of before, it will go away, no big deal, and they don't dig into what the issue is.

My great hope is that when writers who are stuck look up: What is writer's block, Cure for writer's block, How to get past writer's block, I hope they find articles and discussions like this, where it's explained that the block is not the cause, the block is not the diagnosis, it's a symptom, it is a result. And that if they don't look for the true cause of the symptom, they're not going to be able to tackle the issue. I want people to address their problems rather than mask them by just saying "I have writer's block."
In the article I tried to keep things light and pointed to writers avoidance where people people avoid writing because of negative feelings with the writing process and gave a few pointers on how to get around the hump of negative emotions. While I still hold to the idea that writer's block (as a final diagnosis) is not real, I would say that I wasn't looking to discuss the darker, more personal side of mental health issues. I'm not a doctor. That article would have read: Writer's block isn't real. Mental health issues are. Go talk to your doctor. The End. Right? I don't have a place to give medical advice. Even if I have first hand experience from the patient's side, I can't talk from the doctor's side. No matter how much of a page I could fill with my own situation at the end, I'm going to have to say, talk to your doctor. So I chose not to go that route with the blog. I went with the more surface level issues that cause a person to claim writer's block.
After rereading the blog, the thing I do regret is saying "there is only writer's avoidance." And I phrased it like that to echo the Matrix quote of 'it is only yourself.' There are more reasons why we fail to write besides avoidance, but I chose that phrasing because of the literary parallel. So for that, I do apologize to anyone who read that and thought that I was excluding them or disregarding their hardships.

__________________
Happy Writing-

M. A. Swaim

Attaree 13 Aug 2021 at 02:04  
Thanks to all for the comments and ideas. I do appreciate the posts and personal messages of those who hope to help.

To those of you who believe you have writer's block, know that regardless of what brought it on, the block is the real deal. It is not the symptom; it is the result.
Alhambra 13 Aug 2021 at 09:35  
One more aspect to the issue - I've heard about it from other authors and have partially experienced it myself.
Once you have to write about something negative or triggering for you, it's becoming increasingly difficult.
Since writers live through the characters' emotions more than anyone else, when dealing with villains or grief, I personally, had difficulty putting words on paper, as if it was something final, sealing a person's fate. Much the same when I had to go through a characters' toxic thoughts myself and then write them down. It wasn't like that when I initially thought of the general plot. When writing a scene I realize it has to include X and Y, which is triggering for me and I can't proceed.
Attaree 13 Aug 2021 at 10:52  
Alhambra:

Yes, I understand. I wrote a scene fictionalizing a murder I actually witnessed as a child. Afterward, I entered a surprising state of grief. Producing emotional scenes can affect my stability long term. And I don't believe it has to be a scene based on actual personal experience; on the contrary, I believe after I write the scene as I see it, it is my experience.

I've written seven additional killings in my book(s), all of which happened in real life but before my birth. Yeah, total eight. I learned about those seven through research. But after I wrote them, six of the seven have become very real, as distressing as the one I saw take place. I suspect my writing wasn't effective on the one that doesn't bother me, and I also expect the reader won't much care if that fellow died or not.

My writer's block may originate more from what I write than from any underlying issues. My thinking is that writers who go deep inside themselves for their scenes will have issues because of what they write about. But that's a hunch and not a fact. I can't take my experience as a base and say, this is what happens and this is what you can do about it. Because even if I knew an answer, it would not be another writer's answer.

Alhambra 13 Aug 2021 at 11:17  
Attaree:

Yes, for me it also didn't have to do with personal experience. It's not about murder scenes, but still, as you said, they have become my experience after producing them.
Perhaps, those that did happen with me personally are less influential, as I suffered through them already in the past.

I remember that the epigraph from The Fall of The House of Usher made a deep impression on me:

"Son coeur est un luth suspendu; Sitot qu'on le touche il resonne." - "His heart is a tightened lute; as soon as one touches it, it echoes."
(I wonder how Poe managed all this darkness).
Leglessme 14 Aug 2021 at 02:19  
@Attaree, @Alhambra, so many times I was told when in RWA that the best scenes you'll write are the ones that upon second read through make you burst out laughing or cry if you wrote them effectively. Being that romances inherently end on an upbeat note, even murder mystery romances don't get a focus on someone's murder.

I suppose my losing my legs would be something I don't want to write about. Any time I tell the story, I tell what my husband went through in making the decision whether to have the amputation done or not. He went through a lot, too. Me? I passed out and woke up legless me. But, to me, I woke up. They were gone. I was alive. That was the whole point. I do not think I want to write something about anyone losing their legs from a character's (or my) POV. I have all the info on it. Many people said I should write a novel about it. I'm not interested in it, however.
__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

Dhsparks 14 Aug 2021 at 02:47  
As my critting buddies here know. I started my first novel in October of 2019, by March of 2020 I had to stop writing because I got a severe case of COVID that lasted months and fogged up my head. I couldn't write, because I couldn't focus. After a few months, I tried to write again, but I got hit with COVID a second time. This time, it was less severe, but it brought back the fog in my head. It's depressing to be sick for so long. The fog didn't lift until after I got the vaccine. Now I'm writing again, and feeling better than I have in a very long time. I hope the same for you, Attaree.
Leglessme 14 Aug 2021 at 03:06  
Dhsparks
As my critting buddies here know. I started my first novel in October of 2019, by March of 2020 I had to stop writing because I got a severe case of COVID that lasted months and fogged up my head. I couldn't write, because I couldn't focus. After a few months, I tried to write again, but I got hit with COVID a second time. This time, it was less severe, but it brought back the fog in my head. It's depressing to be sick for so long. The fog didn't lift until after I got the vaccine. Now I'm writing again, and feeling better than I have in a very long time. I hope the same for you, Attaree.
Even the vaccine gave me fog brain. I can't imagine having it for so long. Although, I did have no brain for writing for about a year after my legs were amputated. That also comes with a type of brain fog. I recommend not losing your legs.

I'm glad to hear you're writing again. Let's all hope there's no round three of Covid for you.
__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

Rawrites 14 Aug 2021 at 08:47  
Attaree

What I understand is that now that I've identified my underlying issues (and I believe that I have) I should be able to address these issues and put them to rest, thereby eradicating my symptom, which I call writer's block. I'm open to all practical suggestions.
As someone who lives with a long term illness that deeply affects my motivation and ability to do things I’m perfectly capable of, I would caution against believing that understanding the causes of symptoms thereby leads to action to “eradicate” them which thereby leads to their eradication. As humans we just don’t work that logically. I’ve lived with depression for 28 years, on and off, and the best thing I ever did was accept that I’m never going to 100% recover but that it’s part of me.

The issues you raise can be explored, by therapy or other methods, and they can be helped. But they may come back again.

It’s about finding practical workarounds. If you wait till all your issues are solved to achieve something, you’ll still be waiting on your deathbed.

Now I know those issues are huge blockages myself. I go through frequent (biweekly) periods of not being able to write. Sometimes I can’t get the workaround to work. Sometimes I can. But don’t expect the things you’ve identified to be able to be solved like a maths problem, then you can brush your hands off and say that’s done. Life doesn’t work that way.

I suppose what I’m saying is, letting go of trying to “fix” yourself can often help most.
__________________
Attaree 14 Aug 2021 at 09:18  
Rowan, I agree issues of the type I have are permanent and will likely become more extreme. We've been having a discussion in this thread and I have maintained that writer's block is real while the opposing view is that it is NOT real (reference the title of the thread). I find it real and I'd feel weird if it went away. But I don't believe that Writer's Block means we have to quit writing. I also believe for some of us quitting will be the best answer. It's a choice. Keep writing, or wrap it up and move on. Whatever works best.
Aries75 14 Aug 2021 at 14:11  
Attaree
We've been having a discussion in this thread and I have maintained that writer's block is real while the opposing view is that it is NOT real (reference the title of the thread).
It's interesting, because when I saw the thread title - and then read the first paragraph of the blog post - my reaction was, "Oh, I see what you did there - a clickbait/'Now that I've got your attention'-type thing." In other words, I chose not to take M.A. Swaim literally when he said writer's block wasn't "real."

I agree with his argument that writer's block is a symptom/manifestation of something else, but as Rawrites says above, that doesn't necessarily mean the underlying issue can be "cured." So...as long as the underlying issue remains real, so too does the symptom of writer's block and all its consequences.

Re what you said above about "fear of success", what does that mean as you define it? I've always thought of it as fear of fame (and all the consequences thereof), which is entirely understandable! It's one thing to screw up in front of two or three people, but imagine that screw-up endlessly dissected by the media before an audience of potentially millions In fact, my dream for myself is for my work to become mega-famous...just not me along with it (this is why I truly detest the trend of "author as brand"...I don't wanna be a "brand", I want to write under a pseudonym and preserve my obscure and anonymous normal life )
Alhambra 14 Aug 2021 at 14:15  
It's one thing to screw up in front of two or three people, but imagine that screw-up endlessly dissected by the media before an audience of potentially millions
Ariel75: It's not exactly success then..
Aries75 14 Aug 2021 at 14:49  
Alhambra
It's one thing to screw up in front of two or three people, but imagine that screw-up endlessly dissected by the media before an audience of potentially millions
Ariel75: It's not exactly success then..
I'm referring to cases where someone famous due to success in their given field (e.g. actor, athlete) makes the sort of mistake any ordinary person could (e.g. says something that could be perceived as embarrassing or offensive, gets a speeding ticket, etc). But of course this raises another point - "the higher you rise, the harder you fall."

Alhambra 14 Aug 2021 at 15:01  
Aries75
Alhambra
It's one thing to screw up in front of two or three people, but imagine that screw-up endlessly dissected by the media before an audience of potentially millions
Ariel75: It's not exactly success then..
I'm referring to cases where someone famous due to success in their given field (e.g. actor, athlete) makes the sort of mistake any ordinary person could (e.g. says something that could be perceived as embarrassing or offensive, gets a speeding ticket, etc). But of course this raises another point - "the higher you rise, the harder you fall."
Yes, that's the price to pay.
There's always an option of posthumous fame.
On a serious note, though, celebrities who don't want public attention can dodge it. There are ways.
Attaree 14 Aug 2021 at 21:34  
Aries75
Attaree
We've been having a discussion in this thread and I have maintained that writer's block is real while the opposing view is that it is NOT real (reference the title of the thread).
. . . Re what you said above about "fear of success", what does that mean as you define it? . . . ( )
I define fear of success as a need to remain unknown.

Leglessme 15 Aug 2021 at 00:09  
Attaree
I define fear of success as a need to remain unknown.
I'd have to agree, especially when you consider Kurt Cobain did his level best to make Nirvana something no other successful band was just so he wouldn't have to deal with fame. He didn't realize he was speaking for millions.

__________________
Bright blessings,
Sandra
Website and blog

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