Stories shape and influence our perceptions of life, who we are, and what we’re capable of.
Even a single word choice can contain, within itself, an entire story.
“Fine” is a story. “Busy” is a story.
And so is… “writer’s block.”
Even if you’re not a writer, I want to tell you about this phrase — this story — because it says a lot about the stories that govern, dictate, and shape quite a bit of our lives and choices and outlook.
“Writer’s block” is a story and all stories represent ideas. The idea that this phrase has come to represent is that writers everywhere will inevitably confront a sneaky, mysterious, ill-defined but altogether unstoppable monster at some point (or many points) in their creative journeys.
This Boogeyman of an affliction will arrive suddenly and rob them of their creativity; the very fuel that provides them with deep reward and personal fulfillment and even the ability to provide for themselves as professionals.
Why is it that writers everywhere allow the story of “writer’s block” to continue to be told?
Why do writers perpetuate the story of victimization of our creative outlets — the art-form writers love — if still they feel stumped by it or frustrated with it from time to time?
Sure, I understand that it’s helpful to have a phrase to describe the mysterious feeling of stuckness or resistance that naturally arises in most creative pursuits.
But after years of working closely alongside writers, creatives, aspiring authors, freelancers, editors, bloggers, journalers-in-secret and other “creatively-curious” people to develop more holistic, rewarding and fulfilling self-expression practices, I’ve come to believe that the story of “writer’s block” is an altogether unhelpful and impractical umbrella term.
When I quit my job nearly a decade ago to pursue a career as a writer, I had no idea that I would go on to undertake a personal mission to eradicate the story of “writer’s block” from the lexicon of writers everywhere.
Today, that’s exactly what I find myself doing.
According to The Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, the phrase “writer’s block” was first invented in 1947 by a psychoanalyst named Edmund Bergler. Of course, the idea of writer’s block existed long beforehand with countless writers, poets, novelists, creatives, playwrights and artists describing similar experiences of struggle with their creativity.
But Bergler gave the malady a name.
He attributed it to being a psychological condition.
His choice of words, “writer’s block,” codified a story that represented an idea: that even talented and driven artists could somehow, as if by magic, lose the inner essence and resource that fueled their artistry.
Today, a quick internet search on “writer’s block” yields more than 31 million results.
And yet, so far as I can tell, no one has gotten any closer to figuring out what writer’s block is or how to actually solve for it.
Part of my work with writers and creatives across the globe is to undermine the story of writer’s block, for good.
It’s time we bring an end to this two-word phrase invented by one man that has gone on to become a global epidemic in the minds of writers and creatives worldwide. At best, the popular use of the story of “writer’s block” today affirms that there is some commonality to the shared experience of struggle and discomfort at the root of all creative pursuits.
At worst, the phrase “writer’s block” has become an entirely counterproductive crutch phrase that consistently fails to help writers and creatives understand the subtle undercurrents of their discomfort with creative self-expression.
Introducing: Unavoidable Writing LIVE!
Tomorrow, in partnership with my friends at ACES: The Society for Editing, I’m honored to be teaching my first ever Unavoidable Writing LIVE! workshop to help writers get deeper into the heart of creative resistance.
It’s happening at an exclusive pre-conference workshop in my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, and there are still spaces available if you happen to be in the area.
My workshop will introduce you to a unique three-part system that helps writers, creatives, artists and anyone who works with creative people understand the sneaking, subtle roots of emotional discomfort that are bound to manifest along every creative journey. Better yet, you’ll leave this workshop with a slate of tools, tips, resources and strategies for unknotting “writer’s block” and applying new, holistic and constructive practices in its place.
My hope for you is that by the end of Unavoidable Writing LIVE!, you’ll never feel like you have to resort to telling the old, outdated story of “writer’s block” ever again.
Even if you’re not a writer, remember that even single word choices — let alone, whole phrases — contain stories that represent ideas. Those stories are powerful, and have a huge impact on how we perceive ourselves and what we’re capable of doing in this lifetime.
The next time you encounter a story of self-limitation, I ask you this:
Please, stop telling it.
Until next time, friend,