Sometimes, I stare at a blank page and think, Well, this is it. I used to know how to write. I guess that’s all gone now. To be a writer is to have experienced, at some point or another, varying degrees of writer’s block, the feeling that you have nothing to say, or even if you did, you can’t find the words. In his column for The Guardian this week, psychology writer Oliver Burkeman investigates the feeling. Is it, as they say, a thing?
It is. Sort of. He explains psychologist Paul Silvia’s take on the matter, that writer’s block is “a description masquerading as an explanation.” It’s true, some research has shown, that fear over what people might think of the dumb words you’re typing might keep you from even trying to type any words at all.
Then again, it is probably best that you don’t tell yourself any of this. “Naming something gives it object power,” Burkeman quotes Silvia as saying. “People can overthink themselves into deep dark corners, and writer’s block is a good example.” It’s best, then, if you don’t dwell on or “diagnose” yourself with the problem; instead of calling it “writer’s block,” call it what it is, or rather, what it isn’t — “not writing.” At my first newspaper job, sometimes I would start stories in Gmail, as if all I was doing was writing an email to a friend. That helped. Sometimes. Anne Lamott’s “shitty first drafts” concept has always been useful, too. The point is — and I’m so sorry to have to tell you this — to get over writer’s block, you’re just going to have to write.