word craft


The Pause Key

Pause ButtonOne of the ques­tions I am most often asked when vis­it­ing a school is, “Have you ever had writer’s block?”

How young peo­ple even know the term “writer’s block “ is a mys­tery to me. Over the years, how­ev­er, I think I’ve come to under­stand what they are real­ly asking. 

First, how­ev­er, writer’s block is, as I under­stand it, a seri­ous form of depres­sion. And depres­sion is the occu­pa­tion­al dis­ease of writ­ers. But this is some­thing more spe­cif­ic.   From what I under­stand, writer’s block is a fear of writ­ing, a psy­cho­log­i­cal state in which the writer becomes fear­ful of revealing—going pub­lic, if you will—of some­thing (con­scious­ly or uncon­scious­ly) that is embed­ded in his or her writ­ing. As a result they stop writ­ing. I am hard­ly an expert on this, and in any case, I have nev­er real­ly been sub­ject to such a condition.

What I’ve learned, how­ev­er, is that what young peo­ple actu­al­ly mean by the ques­tion “have you ever had writer’s block?”  is, “Have you ever been stuck, unable to think out the next word, sen­tence, para­graph, etc.?“ The answer is, of course! All the time! One hun­dred times a day! Writ­ing requires a huge amount of think­ing, plan­ning, decid­ing, and so forth.  Paus­ing. No one writes in one long end­less flow. No one. This is impor­tant, because when young peo­ple get stuck—which always hap­pens to all writers—when they don’t know how to pro­ceed, they think it means they can’t write. But writ­ing takes time. Paus­ing. Some­times for a long time. Any teach­ing of writ­ing that does not allow time for thought gives a very wrong mes­sage to the young writer. Being stuck is very much part of the process, as is think­ing out how not to be stuck. 

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