“there is no such thing as writer’s block”

So said my writing teacher my junior year of college. A skinny man influenced by Buddhism and Tom Romano, Bob Tremmel had captivated my attention like no other English teacher had done since I was in high school. It was probably his class that turned me from someone interested in teaching literature and ideas to someone interested in teaching writing. I became both more “social-epistemic” and more “expressivist” simultaneously in his class.

But this post is not about Tremmel the man; it is about the legacy of one statement he made to the class, one wise statement that sticks out more than his other pithy, sage advice:

“There is no such thing as writer’s block.”

Of course, paraphrased in my head from six years of separation. A mathematician doesn’t get math block, he argued, so how could a writer get writer’s block. This sounded ludicrous to me. Of course there was such a thing as writer’s block. I was living proof of it: a 21-year-old poet desperately wishing he could still write poetry. And then Tremmel introduced us to the concept of freewriting.

And I could write. And it was awful. Terrible. Some of the worst drivel to come out on my computer screen. But there were gems. Moments where something did come out. When finally there was poetry and stories and ideas and I wasn’t dead and I was a writer again.

Because there is no such thing as writer’s block. Certainly writers get frustrated. Certainly a writer can spend days, weeks, months, years, only writing awful prose that isn’t fit for an audience outside of the self. But the best way out of that frustration, that funk, I found, was actually doing what I had been denying myself: writing.

And yet, here we have JK Rowling claiming “writer’s block” (NY Times via Claire) because someone is writing a Harry Potter guide. She claims, according to the article, to be motivated to sue out of outrage, not out of greed — and the writer’s block that follows this outrage. I find it ironic that Rowling has seemed to wish her own writing’s death (Voldemort Scriptus?) because of anger (Yoda taught us to distrust anger, fear, and aggression): Does this come out of fear? If she loses the case, Ms. Rowling said on Wednesday, “the floodgates will open,” and writers everywhere will lose control of their material. Her books, it seems, are hers, texts she wish were dead (not living, not to evolve), and now her own act of writing too is dying.

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2 Responses to “there is no such thing as writer’s block”

  1. Ira Socol says:

    As you say, the solution to writer’s block is to write. Sometimes I pick a photograph. Sometimes I pick a random spot on Google Earth and zoom in. Sometimes I pick a book or story or song, and I’ll just let someone begin to interact it. Or I’ll just go sit in a pub or coffee shop and just begin to write down overheard conversations.

    The writing may not, as you point out, be anything other than crap. But I save it all. And sometimes in the middle of the night one of those bits of crap will supply a line or an idea that can be used for something better.

    What really messes up my “writing” is the energy that goes into writing for school. But that’s another story.

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