You’re Not Special Enough to Have Writer’s Block

Slovenly, hopeless Eddie Morra tries to overcome his indecision and fear over his novel with medicine. The pill will instead cause him to get a haircut.

I sometimes wonder if Writer’s Block (the capitalized version, the chronic condition) was invented by pop culture. If your main character is The Writer (the capitalized archetypical version, not the human being) then all he does all day is sit and look at things. To give him a dramatic purpose that looks interesting he needs a conflict, and what’s worse than – by God – not being able to perform the very function you’ve been put in the story to perform?

Writer’s Block as portrayed in pop culture is perfectly embodied by Bradley Cooper’s character Eddie Morra in Limitless – unkempt, dirty, drunk, inevitably bouncing a ball off the walls, staring uselessly at a waiting computer, and lying to strangers in bars about the book’s progress (the anonymous confession making the lie all the more pathetic). In other words, those who suffer Writer’s Block are simply waiting, but nothing is arriving. The writer who is not blocked is also waiting but something does arrive: inspiration, usually a bolt of artistic fire right from the gods above. For Eddie Morra, the external intervention comes in the form of a pill. For Jack Torrance in The Shining, it comes as a malevolent ghostly hijack, actualizing the Writer’s worst fear that the otherworldy lightning may be evil instead of productive. In all cases the Writer’s Block condition is relieved by something other than the Writer.

This, of course, bears no resemblance whatsoever to actual writing (the lowercase version, the human action). Writers don’t wait, they do, which makes them no more special than anyone else who does things – plumbers, baristas, pet groomers, dairy farmers. Writers make decisions; to sit down and focus, to turn on the computer, to deliberately create a specific thing. Writers who can’t write are being accosted by the same things that accost anyone who can’t make a decision, things like being distracted by the fight you had with your parents the night before, or fear that the end product will be terrible, or even regular old Lazy-Sunday-I-Don’t-Want-To-Do-Nuthin’-itis. I just took an hour away from this piece to make another pot of coffee and look at some tech blogs under the false pretense that I might buy an iPad, for no reason other than that I didn’t want to finish this paragraph. How much nicer it would be to say that it wasn’t my fault! How nice it would be to blame it on a special condition that only afflicts me.

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