On Writer’s Block

I’ve written an article for Overland journal about writer’s block. It’s fairly comprehensive, I think, and I hope it helps some writers out there at least a little bit. Here’s how it starts:

There was a time in my early twenties when I found it excruciating to sit in front of the computer. As a teenager, I’d been excited to write, and stories had flowed from me freely.

Then this, from nowhere.

I’d already been published, but that made little difference. I knew I had something to say – coming up with ideas for stories and articles has never been one of my problems – but I found it impossible to drag myself to the study. What the hell was going on? American activist and writer Mary Heaton Vorse seemed to be talking about me when she said that ‘the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.’ But even if I did sit myself down, I would struggle out a few hundred words and grind to a halt like some antique dot-matrix printer at the end of its life.

Because I had accepted a romantic notion of art, it all seemed a mystery to me. Art was meant to be unfathomable. To ask questions about the process, to break it down scientifically, would be to destroy it, I thought.

So I put the problem down to some mysterious personal weakness.

Only recently have I come to think of myself as suffering, back then, from writer’s block, that dreaded curse said to afflict writers at the strangest times, to leave them paralysed, staring at the proverbial ‘blank page’.

One of the reasons I hadn’t thought of my problem in those terms was because I never really believed in writer’s block. When people had mentioned it, I thought they were referring to a lack of ideas, with the blank page representing the blankness of their imagination.

This was not what I was suffering from. I was suffering from an unnecessary blockage, a self-undermining behaviour. My writer’s block was something much more functional: the writing-paralysis caused by anxiety, fear or a similar kind of discomfort.

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