Writer’s Block and Problem Solving

Some would argue that writer’s block doesn’t exist. That it is simply an excuse used by writers who have struggled to produce work.

There is an oft cited quote on writer’s block from Philip Pullman that speaks to this view. In fact, my friend and fellow writer, KM Alexander, author of the Bell Forging Cycle recently had a post using that very quote and it got me thinking, which for those who know me, is usually a rabbit hole. I definitely fell into this one and thought it might be fun to work up a little rebuttal. Love ya buddy! Anyway, here’s Mr. Pullman’s quote.

“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, I want to agree with this quote. To be honest I almost do but I can’t ignore a fundamental oversight happening within the words. Plumbers and doctors do suffer from their respective blocks. They aren’t referred to as blocks yet they exist. All of these “blocks,” writer, doctor, plumber or otherwise, are simply puzzles that need a solution.

All forms of labor, thought, and creation come with difficulties. All forms of work come with problems that must be solved before one can move on. Problems that take time to solve.

Mr. Pullman is spot on when he points out that it is ridiculous for writing to have its own special name for and to expect sympathy for the puzzles inherent in the work. It’s childish. Even so, what happens if we strip away the silly name and the need for pity? If writer’s block is truly a myth, then nothing should remain. Yet, something does. The difficulty remains. The problem begging for solution, the root of the block, remains. The puzzle.

The trouble in considering writer’s block as merely myth is that it ignores the very real, time-consuming struggle with not only creating your work but making it right. The struggle to tell the story as it truly deserves to be told.

Yes, much of the puzzle solving work happens during revision drafts. This is the perfect time for adjustments to your story but what about those puzzles that are fundamental to the life of the story. What if the bones are bad? Does one forge ahead knowing full well that the words they write now will cause the manuscript to crumple under its own weight? That seems to invite not just revision but entire re-writes. Re-writes are a part of the game and we all understand that but is it really more efficient to write in a way that all but ensures the need for one?

A mathematician, when presented with a challenging problem, doesn’t opt for writing equations they know to be incorrect just to seem like they’re working. Likewise, a plumber doesn’t install needless pipes to seem busy nor does a doctor throw random cures at a patient in order to appear doctorly. They think their way through the puzzles until they come to a solution that allows them to move forward with confidence. Why then do we expect writers to continue writing, constantly writing, despite the puzzles that they encounter?

When we say that writer’s block is a myth, what we really want to say is that it isn’t a justifiable reason to stop writing. I agree with that. However, the act of writing is more than putting pen to paper or fingers to keys. The planning and plotting, the organization and research, the problem solving, all of the thought that goes into writing is as valid a part of the job as word count. A thinking writer is therefore a working writer.

Maybe the point of contention with writers block really lies in when we choose to employ the term. Maybe a truly “blocked” writer is one who neither thinks about nor produces their work. In that case, the only puzzle to solve is that of motivation which is a different beast entirely.

 

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3 thoughts on “Writer’s Block and Problem Solving

  1. This is a great post! I have had the mindset that writers block can be overcome just by forcing one’s way through a story, but I think that you made a much better insight. When I force myself to continue writing, I am really forcing myself to find a solution. Once I have discovered it, then the block fades. I think the only other form of writer’s block comes from a lack of motivation to write.

    • Yeah, the motivation related block is a tough one. It seems to come down to a lack of feeling inspired. I tend to media binge in those cases. Books, movies, TV, blogs, anything applicable to what I’m writing. Sometimes all it takes is to get excited about someone else’s work in order to spark your own creativity.

      • I know exactly what you mean! I just reread Patrick Rothfuss’s, “A Wise Man’s Fear,” and felt so motivated to write. I think that reading and watching other stories are a fantastic way to recharge a writer’s creativity.

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