Does Writer’s Block Exist?

In a word, yes. In it’s most extreme form, which I’ve experienced, everything the writer tries to write simply stops after the first few pages. If you foster your creativity, nurture it on a regular basis, however, writer’s block is less likely to be a problem. Ever.

Writer’s block can sneak up on a writer.  It arrives disguised as something else — a physical illness, a family crisis, a car accident — and makes it impossible to even think about writing words down to fill a blank page, much less narrative structure, story, developing characters.  Sometimes, life needs attending first.  Believe it or not, nurturing your life and your experiences will make you a better writer.  A humane writer. 

My experience with bad writer’s block occurred because of a trauma I’d survived.  The physical wounds had healed but not the emotional and psychological wounds.  My mind and heart let me know by not allowing me to write.  The problem was that I could not understand what was happening and was angry about the block.  It was two years — yes, years — before I figured it out.  During that time, I read voraciously.  I kept a journal, writing everyday in as much detail as I could to exercise my writing muscles and keep them limber.  Occasionally, I pulled out a writing project and tried to work on it, with no success.  I also learned patience with myself and my imagination during this time, something that was as difficult for me as feeling that I’d never write again.

How did I finally break the writer’s block?  I watched a movie.  I would also argue that I was ready to write again, and going to the movie, seeing a fine actor create and sustain a character through subtle gestures as well as costume and speech, proved to be the perfect messenger to tell me.  I saw Daniel Day-Lewis play Hawkeye in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans.  I had been doubtful Day-Lewis could truly pull it off.  I was as skeptical as a person can be and almost didn’t go, but a good friend persuaded me to give him a chance.

Hawkeye in action (photo:

From the opening frames, it was clear that Day-Lewis had stepped aside to allow Hawkeye to animate him.  I was amazed.  I ended up seeing the movie five or six times in the theater — the first to get the story, and the following to study Day-Lewis and the other actors.  It was a lesson in creating and developing character.  The thing that still sticks in my mind years later is the way Day-Lewis used his body to convey Hawkeye’s personality — his walk, his hand gestures, his stance — this actor never relaxes. 

Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye (photo: Morgan Creek Productions)

Day-Lewis and the other actors sparked thoughts about the characters I had created — how had I defined them in the story?  How did they behave?  Did they have any idiosyncratic gestures?  How did they live in their bodies?  How did speech set each one apart?  I spent months on getting to know my characters, visualizing them, developing their backstories, listening to their voices as I interviewed them.  In the end, it was really this work that broke the writer’s block. 

Hindsight reveals truth.  Looking back much later, I realized the true cause of my bout of writer’s block.  It forced me to re-examine how I approach my life as well as my writing.  I certainly don’t need to be so hard on myself, just on the writing.

I’ve heard that a common cause of writer’s block is a writer’s unreasonably high expectations for himself and his writing, expecting to perform at an award-winning level even in a first draft.  The only cure for such a block is to lower expectations and write, write, write.  Perfection remains impossible to attain, no matter who you are.  Striving for excellence, however, is a noble goal as long as it’s done without taking oneself too seriously. 

So, just keep it human…..

7 responses to “Does Writer’s Block Exist?

  1. um….


    The ne… um…

    I was having major problems writing my thesis. I would sit and stare at the page (electronic or paper) and my brain would go blank. I’ve never had this happen for more than a couple hours, which is usually corrected by a couple hours distraction (reading, writing something else, watching a movie, etc.)

    Getting more than one night’s good sleep helped. So did changing *how* I was trying to write. I switched from “We observed the similarities between these two variables with in …” and just wrote “These two things looked the same”. I got 4 pages written yesterday. This will probably turn into 1-2/3 pages once I turn it into the desired style. The important part was that I had my intention in words, not the word choice, which I think ought to be easier to change.

    So, let’s see if I can get another 4 pages done today. It probably won’t happen, since I need to go to the lab and get my research notebook for some data to actually write some quantitative things.

    • I’ve not written a master’s thesis, so I have no idea what the process is. Not being a scientist, I also don’t know the writing conventions accepted by scientists. As much as I would like to be of help, I’m afraid my desire far out-weighs my qualifications. I hope your writing in the past week has progressed well and you are approaching the stage of polishing what you’ve written. As ever, I’m happy to be one of your readers…..(smile)

  2. Pingback: Endings and Blocks | Anatomy of Perceval

  3. Pingback: Non-Writer’s Block | Anatomy of Perceval

  4. Pingback: Writers and Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis | Anatomy of Perceval Blog

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