September 08, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Clearing the blockage 

Writers offer antidotes and anecdotes on overcoming the blank screen

Page 4 of 7

This slightly whimsical site ends with a note on the importance of attitude, and reminds us that a child doesn’t say, “I can’t finger-paint today,” which reminds me of an old quote that Rebecca Wood Barrett forwarded to me the other day:


“What do you do about writer's block? I don't believe in it. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don't get plumber's block, and doctors don't get doctor's block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

– Philip Pullman


Now wait a minute. It didn’t occur to me to expect sympathy for the state I am experiencing. But I admit I am no plumber, nor doctor, nor would I feel comfortable making a broad sweeping statement as to whether they ever had a block, or preemptive block about their particular professions. It is a sound quote on the work of the writer as work, but I am thinking that writer’s block may exist, and not only because there are 29,100,000 linked sites on Google for it (approximately 10,000,000 more than the 19,300,000 for Santa Claus).


“For me, it's not so much writer's block as writer's resistance. I never have any trouble writing or thinking up ideas once I get my bum down in the chair. It's getting to the chair that's so incredibly difficult, because at any given time I have an infinite number of vitally important jobs to take care of, from petting the cat to cleaning the toilet. On a good day I convince myself to get to the chair and write before doing any of those other critical things. On a bad day I do them first and feel guilty and then get to the chair. On a really bad day I don't get to the chair at all, and promise myself I'll write double the next day, which I never do.”

Rebecca Wood Barrett


I sent in a request via Stella Harvey to the Vicious Circle (Whistler Writers Group) on how they dealt with writer’s block. Over half of the respondents replied that they did not believe in writer’s block. I spent some time digesting this. Was it the terminology? The implications of the terminology? Were they only writing when they felt like it? Or were they more prone to PWB (The preemptive stage of writer’s block, a.k.a. procrastination, which precludes writer’s block but may be a direct result of WBP, writer’s block phobia)? Or did they just always write fluidly and beautifully all the time? Really? I mean, how many films, books and marvelous pieces of theatre would have to be discounted? Bells are Ringing (1960), Paris When it Sizzles (1964), Barton Fink (1991), The Gambler (1997), The Muse (1999), The Man from the Elysian Fields (2001), Adaptation (2002), to name a few.

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