The Perception of Writer’s Block

Up until, oh, this week, I would have said I’ve had writer’s block for five years. And then I put together my portfolio and realized that I was actually writing a lot.

Somewhere I have a book on hypergraphia, the compulsion to write. Not the passion or the inspiration, but the compulsion. I never did finish reading it. The most memorable  idea from what I read was that writer’s block is a matter of perception.  Here I am, definitely suffering from writer’s block; I’ve got all the neurotic worry and self recrimination going at full bore, even though I was churning out thousands of words every week.

(Let’s pretend this is a bulleted list of everything I’d been writing during that time, which is of interest only to me. You should pretend to be suitably impressed.)

The satisfying and redemptive way to frame this would be by saying the block was all in my head. And all in your head, by extension, since the redemptive way to frame this would also attempt to generalize this to everyone. Writer’s block isn’t real and all you have to do is just believe in yourself, and another fairy gets it wings, clap-clap!

I’ve got this sneaking suspicion it doesn’t work that way.

Perception does not mean it’s all in your head. Perception is about context: how you understand the situation. The situation exists. I’m certain there was something I should have been writing that I wasn’t, and I knew it. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of words you churn out if they’re not the words you need.

There are more than two types of fiction writers, but I’m simplifying down to the extremes here for proof of concept.

1. Emotional

We’re not talking angst and mood swings. The fiction comes from an emotional place. Is driven and controlled by it. For most folks, it’s subconscious. These are the writers who will say, “I was trying to get my character to train with communist monks, but instead she decided she wanted to go wine tasting.” The stories are in charge. The subconscious is in charge.

Emotional writers don’t outline. Emotional writers have conversations with their characters in their heads. When they successfully tap into a vein, their stories have powerful emotional resonance with their readers.

In some ways, this is great. Writing can become this almost trance state. It can flow and feel good and when you’re done you’re surprised at all of the things you put in here, Hey, neat foreshadowing the wine tasting in Chapter 1! However, it’s really easy to write yourself into a corner when you haven’t planned ahead.


2. Deliberate

Deliberate writers plan. They know where they’re going. Their characters show up for work on time. They can write intricate concept driven stories. They know exactly why they mentioned the character prefers chardonnay to beer in Chapter 1, and she goes wine tasting because that was always the plan.

Deliberate writers still use emotion in their fiction, but it isn’t the driving force.


Most writers are not purely emotional nor purely deliberate. Most are combinations. I am primarily an emotional writer. I can be deliberate, but that’s not where my stories come from.

I can’t say what writer’s block is like for a deliberate writer; I have no idea. But for me, for an emotional writer, it means there’s something wrong. Inside. Maybe it’s a truth you can’t let yourself face, a hurt you’re not willing to tap into. Maybe those stories that you think of but then can’t write for years, until suddenly one day you can – maybe that’s because you hadn’t experienced what you needed to in order to write that story.

That’s why I’ve felt like I had writer’s block. Have writer’s block. Even though I’ve been writing. I haven’t been tapping into my subconscious. I’ve been trying to drown it out. Actually, no, I have it tied up in a closet with a sock stuffed in its mouth, and still I can’t get the damn thing to be quiet. And you know, when it eventually gets out, it’s totally going to kick my ass.




5 Responses

  1. So do you have any techniques to let your subconscious have control of your writing? I’m more of a deliberate writer, so pretty much for me I can outline my way down to a story. It may suck (and usually has when I’ve written stories), but I can get the words on page easily enough.

    While DMing, on the other hand, my deliberate style mostly ends up being a framework for improv on top of it, with the benefit that when you get stuck in an RPG you just throw another monster at the players (and you get to let the players drive plot and be reactive anyhow). 🙂

    1. At the moment, Ambien is the only thing that seems to let my subconscious take over – for the thirty minutes before I pass out. That’s one addiction I don’t want, so I only take it for sleep, and not often.

  2. I can definitely relate. I went through a long period of feeling blocked, and, like you, it wasn’t that I wasn’t writing at all. But I had trouble starting projects, and even more trouble finishing them, unless I had a hard deadline. I’m now in my third month of veery slowly but steadily working on a novel, and I think the biggest difference is just that I’m working on a story that I really feel like I need to tell. Exactly why I needed to tell this story, and not some of the other ones I’ve struggled with and abandoned, I’m not sure.

    1. I’ve been getting better at starting things. Finishing still escapes me. Sim is in a similar situation. That’s interesting that we’re all going through it around the same time, and we’re very different people… I wonder if there’s any commonality? Other than us all going to Clarion together 🙂

      1. Clarion definitely takes some time to assimilate.

        Interestingly, one of the things that was really important to me in getting myself to start this novel was that I made a promise to myself that I didn’t have to try to sell it, or even ever show it to anyone, if I didn’t want to. Basically, I gave myself permission to just create in private, and to worry later about whether it was well-written, or marketable, or too weird, or not weird enough, or too personal.

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