I made my first classroom visit in 1970, shortly after I published my first book, Things That Sometimes Happen. I cannot begin to number the times I’ve been with kids in a classroom, be it in fact, or, these days, virtually. One of the questions I am almost always asked is, “Do you ever have writers’ block?” I heard it just the other day.
Now, this is odd if you consider what Wikipedia notes about the condition:
“Research concerning this topic was done in the late 1970s and 1980s. During this time, researchers were influenced by the Process and Post-Process movements, and therefore focused specifically on the writer’s processes. The condition was first described in 1947 by Austrian psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler, who described it as being caused by oral masochism, mothers that bottle fed and an unstable private love life. The growing reputation of psychiatry in the United States made the term gain more recognition.”
Never mind if this is true: Why would elementary students be asking about such a thing?
Because they are not really asking about writers’ block. They are asking a perfectly reasonable question about the normal process of writing: getting stuck.
Nobody—nobody—writes flawless work at one go.
In all my years I have met only one writer who claimed he never re-wrote anything. And he was a journalist, who neglected to mention that multiple editors always went over his writing. So much for impeccable work.
And why does this come to my mind today?
As those of you who may have followed my blog posts of late, I have sustained a hip injury. No pain. No surgery. No pain medication. Recovery is predicted in four weeks or so. I can, and am, at my desk, writing. BUT, it is hard for me to walk, and I am required to use a walker. What has this to do with writing and writers’ block?
Because when I get stuck, I can’t just pop up and take a walk, wash the dishes, sort my bookshelves, check the mail, file papers, etc. etc. etc. I have realized that my normal pattern when thinking out a writing problem, is getting up on my feet and doing something. This is to say I take a break, shift my mind from my writing to something else, and then return to my words. And sometimes, even when I’m doing those mindless things I am working out my problem.
This is NOT about writers’ block. This is the normal flow of writing. Getting stuck. Not sure about what happens next. Who says what and how?
(And at this moment, when I can’t pop up and take a break, it interferes with my writing!)
Students often think they are doing poorly when their words don’t easily flow from start to finish. Since it never will, it’s important for those of you who teach writing, to stress the start and stop nature of writing. That when they experience such a moment—and they always will—it is no different than what every professional writer experiences.
In other words, when writing, instead of using the phrase—“writers’ block—” use, “thinking.”
So, when students ask me the question, “Do you ever think about your writing as you write?” they will know the answer before they ask.