I came across this quote from author Lois Lowry over on Goodreads earlier this week. Someone asked, “What is the writing process for you…and how do you get over writers block?” Lowry’s response was incredibly simple, an obvious statement that was a lightbulb moment for me: writer’s block is a go-to cop out we authors employ when we are too lazy to buckle down. (I’m paraphrasing.) Here’s what she said:
I have never suffered from writer’s block. In fact, I don’t believe in it. It’s a made-up term that has taken on some kind of silly importance. Writing is a job. Some days you don’t feel like doing your job. But there is no “teacher’s block” or “dentist’s block.” I can’t figure out why we have created this mysterious phrase, only for writers, which only means, “I don’t feel like doing this right now.”
I’m guilty of using writer’s block as an excuse many, many times over the course of the last two years spent working on this novel. And sometimes I don’t even blame writer’s block, but rather I admit to my own incapability of prioritizing. (“Last weekend was just too busy, I didn’t even have time to think about writing.”) But writer’s block is a no-questions-asked response that people sort of expect you to give at some point if you’re a writer.
Lowry is right, though.
Writer’s block doesn’t exist. You just don’t feel like writing.
When we find excuses to put off filing a big stack of documents at work –“I don’t feel like doing this right now. I wonder what’s new on Twitter…”– we call it ‘procrastinating.’ When we sit down at the computer or in front of a blank page, and the words don’t come, we call it ‘writer’s block.’ “I’m not feeling inspired. I’m blocked.” I think we believe creative pursuits operate on a different, higher plane in the hierarchy of our needs. Because writing is something I enjoy doing, rather than something I know I have to do (like getting up and going to work every day), we assume it’s immune to the same resistance that quotidian, mundane tasks present. Surely because washing and folding laundry is tedious and no where near as creatively fulfilling as working on my novel, the procrastination I experience when faced with putting away an entire basket of clean clothes couldn’t possibly be the same wall I run into when I sit down to write, only to decide the words just aren’t “ready” or “there.” It’s totally different. It’s writer’s block.
Except it’s not. It’s difficult to dig deep and find the words to put on the page; if it wasn’t, everyone could write a book a week. But while it’s hard to push through and get the writing done (the other side of the same coin: it’s easy to default to blaming the mythical trope of writer’s block), we don’t get to have the same luxury at our day jobs, because we’d find ourselves unemployed. You can’t be fired from writing a novel, so there’s no immediate accountability of a boss bearing down on you and, as a result, we’re more likely to be lenient with our procrastinating and wrap it up in a fancy name. We do our jobs because they have to be done, except when it comes to creative blocks. My mother was a teacher and my father was an architect, and neither of them ever complained about having a block in their chosen professions. “You know, I just couldn’t teach, today.” “Those blueprints just won’t come out of my head this week.”
Do your job, because it has to be done. Write, because this novel has to be written. (This is mostly a plea to myself.)
What do you guys think? Do you believe in writer’s block, and is this an over-simplified theory? Just some food for thought leading into the weekend. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.