Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Blog / The Psychology of Writing

Does writer’s block exist?

So I happened across this post over at Nathan Bransford’s, and though I usually like Nathan’s blog and find him thoughtful in his opinions, I have to say, I could not disagree more with the point he is making here.

Here is what Nathan says: “When people encounter the phenomenon otherwise known as “writer’s block,” what they are really describing is one thing and one thing only: writing stopped being fun.”

And then he goes on to give advice about how to get over yourself and write even when it’s not fun. Which is all very well. But he is missing the OTHER kind of writer’s block. You know. The real kind. The kind that honestly does crush a writer’s ability to write. The kind that Judith Tarr describes here

“For all those who deny that there is a genuine, gut-wrenching, brain-breaking, soul-destroying inability to get words of fiction down on a page, I am here to tell you in all sincerity: Lucky, lucky you. May you always be so blessed. And may you never slam head-on into that wall and have to hear that there is no wall and you are just making it up and what you are going through is bogus.”

What Judith Tarr is describing, and Nathan Bransford is missing, is writer’s block as an expression of serious clinical depression.

I should add that this is not Tarr declaring that writer’s block can arise from clinical depression. This is me stating that what Tarr describes fits clinical depression to a T. If you have ever feel the way described in Tarr’s post, then I hope you seek help for depression rather than waiting it out, because I’m convinced that depression is the underlying issue.

Clinical depression is not something that you can overcome by an effort of will. If I’m right that some cases of writer’s block actually arise from depression, then when a writer is suffering from this kind of writer’s block, it will not help to have anybody deliver well-meant advice that there is no such thing as writer’s block and they should just sit down and the words will come. Because they won’t.

I am not, happily, speaking from experience. I think I have mentioned before that my family seems to have lucked out on that particular genetic lottery.

But it would be nice if those who, like me, are spared the ravages of real honest-to-God clinical depression, hesitate to declare unilaterally that no one else suffers, either.

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2 Comments Does writer’s block exist?

  1. Maureen E

    Yes. It can be–oh, how to put this?–dangerous for me to write when I’m especially struggling with depression. Because the depression and the writing feed off of each other and get all tangled up, until I’m convinced that nothing I try can possibly succeed, etc etc etc. It’s not pretty. Now, other times it helps because it’s creative and takes me out of myself (and for me depression is a downward spiral into self-absorption), but I have to be careful. If I need to take a break, I take a break. As a friend of mine and I have frequently talked about, pushing onwards is actually hugely counterproductive sometimes, and the ‘write everyday’ advice is often just plain wrong. I’m realizing more and more that self-care is a real necessity for any creative endeavor. Of course, sometimes you just need to push on, but if the well is actually dry, that’s not true and trying is not going to work. And mine is not even clinical depression so much as a tendency that worsens during certain periods.

    (My family is kind of the opposite of yours when it comes to genetics, sadly.)

  2. Rachel

    I think the “write every day” advice is wrong for quite a few people. Actually, it’s pretty clear that all writing advice is wrong for quite a few people. Except: “If you don’t finish it, you won’t ever be able to put it out there.” But advice on HOW to finish a ms probably is always going to be wrong for a lot of people, whatever the advice may be.

    >Because the depression and the writing feed off of each other and get all tangled up, until I’m convinced that nothing I try can possibly succeed,

    That really isn’t pretty. You’re so right: people who suffer from depression (or the penumbra of depression, like you) need to find ways to manage their work and take care of themselves. I definitely know other people who have a tendency toward depression or addiction or whatever scattered ALL through their family. The single medical advance I would most like to see is a really, truly, effective cure for depression — and then I’d like to see all other emotional dysfunctions line up for their turn. But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’d like to see everyone who could benefit from the treatments out there now take advantage of them. No stigma, eh? Like if you are missing a foot, you need a crutch. Just like that.

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