One 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.