"Writer's Block is bunk."
That's not exactly what prize-winning author Loren D. Estleman said a few years ago at a Michigan writer's conference, but it's close. He'd already published over 60 books--working on a typewriter.
The problem with even using the term, he said, is that it's a supremely unhelpful way of saying something very basic and ordinary in the life of a writer: you're stuck.
I totally agree. When writers say they have writer's block, a normal, unremarkable part of the writing process can become debilitating. They turn a minor problem into something major like depression and suddenly they're beset by a life-changing affliction.
I've felt this way through my thirty-plus years as a published author, through 25 books and hundreds of published stories, essays, book reviews and blogs. Like Estleman, I believe that we all get stuck sometimes in our work, no matter how much experience we've had.
Stuck is not a bad thing. It just means we haven't worked something out, we haven't answered some question the book is asking us, or maybe we're headed in the wrong direction and need time out to backtrack.
I do what Estleman suggested, and what I've advised my creative writing students over the years: I leave the writing alone and don't obsess about it.
You're stuck? Don't panic. Give the problem to your subconscious to figure out. Work on another project or don't do any writing at all. Focus outward: the gym, a movie, dinner with your spouse, drinks with some buddies, walking your dog, home repairs, Road Trip!, gardening, working on your tan, cooking, your hobby, going out, reading a new book by your favorite author -- anything that will absorb you completely and make you feel good.
Of course, sometimes being stuck can be connected to secrecy and revelation. It can mean we're afraid of what we want to write, afraid of revealing too much about ourselves (or someone else), afraid of what people might think. That fear of exposure is shame, or the dread of shame. Calling it "writer's block" confuses the issue, disguises the real problem(s).
Unfortunately, there's a small industry devoted to helping people overcome "writer's block," to keep them from turning into Barton Fink, stuck on that one sentence. And because the culture loves stories about blocked writers like The Shining, there's a perverse kind of glamour associated with this "condition." It's dramatic, it's proof of how serious a professional you are. And hey, writers are crazy anyway, so of course they can't do their jobs.
Writer's block is almost a badge of honor to the hoi polloi.
And let's face it, since most people hate to write, especially in a texting/Instagram world, "writer's block" connects with non-writers much better than if you say, "I'm working on my book, it's going great and I'm having fun. I'll probably turn it in early." You risk sounding arrogant.
But when you tell people you have writer's block, that makes you more human (and clichéd). It comforts people who don't write, because it confirms their perception of writing as drudgery and even torment.
It doesn't have to be that way.