Writer’s block! The phrase that launches endless debates, headaches, virtual paralysis. Is it real? Is it a figment? Is it just an elegant frame for procrastination? Is it unavoidable? The question comes up like hiccups in so many author interviews. So let’s tackle this basilisk from an angle not often considered.

Q: How can a writer deal effectively with writer’s block?

A:  By not having it. By reshaping it into a tool rather than an obstacle.

“Writer’s block” is a defeatist label we use out of habit instead of acknowledging legitimate, organic reasons why we’re not writing at the moment. The creative well can run low and may need time to refill. Unstructured time and headspace may be needed to new ideas to bubble up. We’re far too inured to the idea that we must be relentlessly productive, write a certain number of words per day, week or month.

So-called writer’s block can be the restorative pause button we all need to hit once in a while. In a recent column on overcoming writer’s wait (a vexatious cousin of writer’s block), I described some of the most useful advice I ever received:

…It came when I was awarded a writing residency some years ago. The Welcome information included this: “Expand your definition of what it means ‘to be writing’ if your definition doesn’t include daydreaming, false starts, walks in the woods, reading or watching a bird. You can be ‘working on a piece’ in many different ways.”

What this wise mentor taught me was that our best writing isn’t something we can part out. It will be the sum of all our experiences, including the inevitable dry spells that come to all of us sooner or later. They can be instructive and redemptive.

They are the times when I look to the wisdom of the Scarecrow and ask myself, “What have you learned, Dorothy?”


@2020 Ellen Notbohm

Further reading:

5 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Wait—Don’t Let the Anxiety of Waiting Get You Down