There is much said and written by writers on how to overcome writer’s block, but I’m considering a more basic question. Why should you overcome writer’s block? The answer seems obvious, so that you can write. Why do you want to write? Because you’re a writer. Why are you a writer? Because you must write.
The writer’s challenge
When I say a writer must write, you might assume I am referring to the fact that writing is a writer’s job; We must all do our job, because that’s how we earn our living, that’s what gives purpose to our lives, that’s what satisfies our needs, and that’s what our boss told us to do. But that is not the must that I’m talking about. You’re not a writer if you happen to put down words on paper or screen, you’re not necessarily a writer if people pay you for your words. You are a writer if writing is an imperative that you cannot ignore. If every cell in your body needs you to write, and if writing is just so much less painful than not writing, then you’re a writer.
Although writing must be done, that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Writing can be a struggle, and part of that struggle is the mythical state of writer’s block. It’s a blank, confused, and scared state where you don’t quite know where to go from here, so you freeze. That freezing is part of what makes writing such a challenge.
Writer’s block gives you insight
If writing were the mere transcribing of thoughts to words, it would be much more commonplace, because if there’s one thing every human being is a born expert at, it’s thinking. We’re thinking all the time and can’t stop if our lives depended on it. So difficult is it to not think that throughout human history people have tried to come up with techniques to quieten the mind. And so hard are these disciplines, that there are even fewer people who successfully meditate in the world than there are people who successfully write.
No, there’s more to writing than translation or mere communication. Writers share insights with the world. They present a way of looking at things, of understanding them that is uniquely theirs. It is that unique vision that writing is all about. Writer’s block raises the bar for what it takes to be a writer, and it makes writing an exciting adventure. Writers are better for it, because in surmounting the challenge, writer’s block often gives the writer the thinking time and the vantage point to get those essential insights.
Writer’s block gives you momentum
On the writer’s journey there are many twists and turns along the unexplored path, but none are as treacherous or unexpected as the barren cliffs of writer’s block, which suddenly rumble up from the Earth and block the way. Some stare up at the seemingly unconquerable cliffs and give up right there; Many are the failed writers who have called the base of these cliffs their home. Others take a step up, and stumble, and continue to chip away at the unforgiving rock until footholds are chiselled into the mountain and they have reached the summit. Not only is the view afforded by conquering writer’s block an essential enlightenment on the journey but it’s also all down hill from there.
Standing there admiring the road ahead from the clouds, the writer is rewarded with one thing he could never get if the path had been less treacherous: potential energy. All that effort put into the climb is now at your disposal so that you can speed down the hill as an unstoppable river of inspiration, brushing aside minor obstacles that come in your way until you reach your destination in the warm ocean. Writer’s block gives the writer momentum.
Writer’s block is the secret ingredient
That which is elusive we always want with greater intensity. And writer’s block plays an important part in making writing an elusive prize. Many of us want to be writers, but a small number of us actually want to write, not because of what being a writer entails in the world, but instead to fulfil our inherent need to express that which we cannot express in any other way. Our need for expression is deepened by the fact that writing is such an elusive craft. You can read all the books you want about what makes writing good or bad, but ultimately that certain quality is unknowable and unmeasurable. That unknown and the fear of it is one of the foundations of the mountain that is writer’s block, and it is that unknown that fires our obsession and crushes our innards with an unending yearning to write.
Why overcome writer’s block? Because writer’s block makes writing an imperative. Writer’s block conspires to make it so that you must write. Writer’s block makes you a writer.