The Great Writer’s Block Debate

By Judy Clement Wall

On the question of writers’ block, there are definitely two camps. There are those who have lived the agony of it, and those that say it simply doesn’t exist.

I could write pages and pages about how terrible it is, how I think it’s not so much a block (which would indicate there are, indeed, words that could be pulled from your imagination and laid out on the page) but more an emptiness (a vast, barren wasteland where those words ought to be).

Someone else could tell you about how they’ve never experienced it because it isn’t real. It’s a story we tell ourselves, they’ll say, a sort of exit strategy for when the going gets rough. It’s about fear and perfectionism and laziness, not block. And they’ll have a multitude of publications that prove their point.

So what do you think. Is writer’s block real?


JUDY CLEMENT WALL (j) is a Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course and co-manages the FoW blog with Milli. j is putting the final touches on her novel, Beautiful Lives, and she blogs about the perils of life, love, writing and cheesecake at Zebra Sounds.

25 Responses to The Great Writer’s Block Debate
  1. Estrella Azul
    February 17, 2011 | 5:16 AM

    I think that it’s all in each individual person’s point of view, like you’ve said, and their own definition of why they’re not writing.
    For me, it’s hard to write when I’m sad, or don’t feel safe, or have too many things on my mind, etc.
    And it’s definitely not a block, because I do write at those times as well – but then just call what I wrote rough drafts because I don’t feel confident enough to edit them, to finish them and publish them on my blog, or submit, or something.
    I’ve been having a hard time for a while now, and it shows in the lack of published flashes. I do have the drafts however, and am writing new ones, which await editing 🙂

    • j
      February 17, 2011 | 2:56 PM

      I have wondered if it’s all semantics. I’m rarely truly unable to write, but I was once. For six months, after a tough love speech from a college professor who believed I could be a more relevant writer than I had attempted to be up until then. It was the hardest and most important period of my writer-life. I was unable to produce (until, finally, a deadline shook me loose). It certainly felt like block to me.

  2. @fearofwriting
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    February 17, 2011 | 10:00 AM

    Once, when I was doing grassroots publicity for the Fear of Writing Clinic in Albuquerque, a journalist decided to print a snippet from my press release apparently only to give himself a platform from which to assert his superiority. (Or to fill some space because he didn’t know what else to write?) He didn’t say much, but from his snide comments I gathered he thinks it not only doesn’t exist but that people who pander to it are mentally feeble.

    However, at least one student showed up at the clinic that day because he saw my press release in the ABQ Journal. Not very scientific, but I rest my case. 😀

    P.S. Sure, that journalist knows no writer’s block when he has a deadline and he’s reporting the news. I’d like to see how cocky he is when he’s writing a novel of his own invention, with no deadline except his own madness or desire to finish he book—and no agent, publisher or advance waiting.

    • j
      February 17, 2011 | 2:57 PM


      • Sandra Williams
        February 18, 2011 | 12:53 PM

        ditto! It’s what’s inside us to make us step up to the plate when no one is looking, demanding, or even interested. I also believe it’s our internal demons that block us at times . . . fears, the need to take time for things to percolate, time that editors and the world at large don’t understand, old pre-verbal tapes we can’t access that cause us to self-sabotage in ways we can’t comprehend consciously, dozens of bona fide reasons that simply manifest as a “block” to creativity, self-confidence, action. It’s what keeps us digging deeper into our own psyches to mine the gold that doesn’t reveal it’s veins to just any old prospector’s trick. We have to get creative to be creative over and over and over again. Writing is not for sissies.

  3. @boonieschick
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    February 17, 2011 | 10:10 AM

    Speaking as a screenwriter, yes, it’s real, and it happens in Act III—even if you’re writing from a treatment and all the writing up to that point has been a joy.

    It happens in Act III if the ending you visualized (or wrote in your up-till-then friendly and helpful treatment) turns out to be glaringly insipid. Which you could not have known until you got there, and which is devastating to the morale of the troops (and even to the likable but ineffective character, if you have one of those). But especially to the writer.

    • j
      February 17, 2011 | 3:03 PM

      Interestingly, one of the reasons I wanted to pose the question is because I read an interview with a novelist who said that he didn’t believe in writer’s block, but he spoke of a similar point in writing his novels. The point at which he realizes he isn’t headed toward the finish line he thought he was, and not only does that change the destination, it changes much of the already-written stuff that got him there.

      He doesn’t let that overwhelm him, he just feels that’s part of the process. But if he stopped writing for a bit, if he felt stymied… would he call it writer’s block?

      One of my professors told me that writers are writing all the time. Even when they’re not. If you have that view… then I guess writer’s block doesn’t exist. You wander around trying to figure out how to get out of that Act III stuck place, and all that thinking is writing too. (Which is kind of a comforting thought.)

      • @fearofwriting
        Twitter: fearofwriting
        February 17, 2011 | 4:28 PM

        On the online course site, I term it “stalled writer.” I don’t know if that’s more acceptable to the people who say writer’s block doesn’t exist. I chose that term because “writer’s block” has been so over-used and denigrated it has lost credibility.

        I think *stalled* sounds more promising too. Then all you need is some juice for your battery. 🙂

        • j
          February 18, 2011 | 12:02 PM

          Yeah, I like “stalled writer” too. It certainly feels more temporary and less… constipated. 😉

  4. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    February 17, 2011 | 12:39 PM

    I have never experienced it in the sense that I’m blocked from creative thought, but I also never experienced large blocks of writing time. If I had the confidence and the backing of a publisher who wants to pay me, then you would find me shunning all else to sit in front of a computer for 10 hours a day.

    Instead I find snatches of time, skid the the desktop, and write like there’s no tomorrow. If I ever get the extra time to let all my thoughts drain out and need to conjure up some new ones, I’ll probably know what it all means.

    • j
      February 17, 2011 | 3:04 PM

      I will say this. When I’m busiest, and writing time is hardest to come by… there is rarely a shortage of ideas. Ah, the irony.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Milli & j, Kate @ BeWriteOn. Kate @ BeWriteOn said: RT @fearofwriting: Is writer's block real? Weigh in on the Great Writer's Block Debate. […]

  6. Andrea S. Michaels
    February 17, 2011 | 2:52 PM

    In my case it’s just laziness. Or sometimes fear that what I’m writing is not interedting at aLl.
    I think sometimes it is more difficult to write for any reasons but I just have to (or would have to) try harder. For me, writer’s block doesn’t exist.

    • j
      February 17, 2011 | 3:06 PM

      Do you think it’s just a matter of what we call it? That what I think of as writer’s block is the same thing you’re calling lazy? I think that’s a distinct possibility.

      (Thank you for commenting!)

  7. Kellie Walker (aka YourLifeInGear)
    February 17, 2011 | 3:34 PM

    I think that, like all things that involve emotions, it’s a very personal thing for each writer. I don’t think it’s genuine or respectful to say that it is or isn’t something for everyone.

    Trying to tell someone that they don’t have writer’s block when they feel they do would be like telling someone they “should be over it by now” when they are grieving a loss.

    So, those who say, “It’s about fear and perfectionism and laziness, not block.” may be right sometimes. But, if they are presenting that statement as a truism, I think they are deluding themselves – perhaps so they can feel like they always have control over if, when and what they write.

    • Boonies Chick
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 17, 2011 | 4:31 PM

      Yah, Kellie!! You put into words what I was feeling as I contemplated the Great Debate.

      I don’t mind people who say “I never get writer’s block” because that is their personal experience. But the ones who say it DOESN’T EXIST steam me up. And you just said why.

      • Kellie Walker (aka YourLifeInGear)
        February 17, 2011 | 10:27 PM

        So glad it spoke to you, Milli!

        • j
          February 17, 2011 | 10:40 PM

          It spoke to me too. What I usually hear writers say is “I don’t believe in writer’s block,” which is still frustrating, but not quite as bad as it doesn’t exist. Seems bold for any writer to declare truth for us all.

          • Kellie Walker (aka YourLifeInGear)
            February 17, 2011 | 11:04 PM


            So glad it spoke to you, too!

            It does seem rather bold, doesn’t it? I’ve always marveled at the need for some people to declare what “is” or “is not” for all. It gets me all “bowed up” when folks do that. Must be the country girl in me. 😉

            Hugs to you and Milli!

  8. Lois
    February 17, 2011 | 5:33 PM

    Oh, yes, it is absolutely real. Whatever one chooses to call it, there are times when, for whatever reasons, a writer simply can’t find the words to put down on paper. There are ways to pull oneself out, but one has to find the way that works. For me, it was Fear of Writing, writing prompts, and Nanowrimo.

    I can’t stress enough how important it is to just sit down and write, even if all you can come up with is, “blah, blah, blah! I can’t think of anything to say! What good is writing anyway?…” At least you’re writing, and if you keep at it, something will come to you that you can work with. 🙂

    • j
      February 17, 2011 | 10:38 PM

      I agree. It’s a muscle, and you have to keep exercising it.

      • Lois
        February 18, 2011 | 11:41 AM


  9. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    February 22, 2011 | 4:13 PM

    A great post, Judy, and some informative comments.

    My usual response is that when I was a wire reporter I didn’t have the luxury of writer’s block. If I had told my managing editor, “Sorry, the muse isn’t with me today,” I would have been fired. That said, some days the muse was not with me, and I’m sure my writing was crap.

    The Fear of Writing program and many others force you to put words on paper. That’s the key. The voice attributed to writer’s block is really saying “You can’t do it.” Once you start, the voice can’t say that anymore, so it will say “Well, okay, you’re writing now, but it’s garbage.” But that’s less powerful, because there’s always the revision process, frankly the most important part of writing.

    On a related point, I certainly find there are times when my creative juices are flowing, and times when they’re not. I’ve written about the importance of maximizing your creativity.

  10. Bell
    Twitter: StartYourNovel
    February 23, 2011 | 9:05 AM

    I believe in writer’s block. It’s also called “Fear of the Blank Page.”
    What’s holding you back, keeping you from writing, is the urge to be perfect. If memory serves, I think it was Verlaine who said, “The blank page is perfect — how can you challenge or improve on that?” (It was something along those lines. It may have been Rimbaud who said it.)

    Let’s not forget, also, that lots of external factors influence your willingness to write: a restless night, depression, anxiety over unwashed dishes or other chores, an illness in the family.

    When you can’t create “sacred space” around you, a bubble in which to write, then you do experience writer’s block.

    Writing is very much about controlling what you want to say and balancing that with the right way to say it. If you feel your life is getting out of hand, you don’t feel powerful enough to control your characters’ lives. I’ve been there, that’s how I felt.

    There is such a thing as writer’s block — except it should be called something else. Perhaps “The Fear of Writing.”

  11. Jacqueline Vargas
    December 14, 2011 | 3:38 AM

    I don’t think it’s genuine or respectful to say that it is or isn’t something for everyone. I think that it’s all in each individual person’s point of view, like you’ve said, and their own definition of why they’re not writing. I also believe it’s our internal demons that block us at times .

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