The Gift of Writer’s Block

Dialogue is the digestive system of the spirit.

That is right. You read correctly. This piece is about the gift of the notorious writer’s block. However, if you look up the definition of writer’s block, it almost sounds like a disease. Read this from Wikipedia:

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. This loss of ability to write and produce new work is not a result of commitment problems or lack of writing skills. The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Writer’s block is not solely measured by time passing without writing. It is measured by time passing without productivity in the task at hand.


There are countless books, articles, and videos about how to beat writer’s block. But most of them – I can’t speak for all – do not see writer’s block as something good or as something healthy, let alone a blessing. However, I say that is a great blessing. Writer’s block, far from being something we need to get rid of, is something we need to pay attention to and explore, like a new friend or new lover. When we do that, when we open its door and listen to it, we will be surprised at what it has in store for us.

In this world, we have been well trained to identify afflictions just as we do with a mental or physical wound. In the medical field, this would be called making a diagnosis. We like diagnostics because it makes us feel like we understand what we are going through, and knowledge, as we like to say, is power. But I must wonder if knowledge is power if it is false knowledge. For example, there is another saying that we all know and think is true and that is the one that says “the first step to solving the problem is to identify the problem.”  But what if that saying and all the beliefs and habits stemming from it are completely wrong? What if the cause of the problem is in the very identification of it? What if our diagnosis is what makes the problem even more complicated that it has to be?  What if we are making a monster out of a hamster, and so rendering ourselves incompetent to handle the hamster (for how can we nurture a hamster if we think it is monster?). It is my assertion – and not just in the case of writer’s block – that our diagnosis of what we think is wrong is what causes, not the initial discomfort or issue, but the persistence of that issue.

So let’s try it. Consider that you have just diagnosed yourself with “writer’s block”. You are sitting at your desk or with your laptop or pencil in hand, and yet the ideas are just not flowing. They are confused or tired or used up.  You get a coffee, thinking maybe you just need a pick me up. You try reading to see if you can get some ideas going. You try just writing anything at all to see if an inspiration will suddenly appear, like mana from the heavens.  But even when an idea might seem promising, it never goes anywhere. The idea and feeling of writer’s block weighs heavier and heavier upon your heart, and you toss and you turn from the inside out, like someone who is afraid they will not fall asleep and so keeps themselves awake for hours on end, worrying about how they will ever stop the worrying that is keeping them awake. It is a train with no destination or with a destination that finds itself at the beginning again, and furthermore, it is a train that is being driven by an ever-increasing desire to just do something productive. When you have a desperate need to be productive, you know you have lost all capacity for productivity.

And this is where hopelessness can be seen, looming upon the horizon. Some of us become sad; some, angry; others google “writer’s block how to get rid of”. Others might just now how to brutally push writer’s block aside and churn something out that is as satisfying as a piece of cheese for Christmas dinner.

But here is the truth. Writer’s block is not a disease. It is not a bad thing. It is not something you need to find a remedy for. Yes, writer’s block is not your enemy. Writer’s block is actually your friend. However, it is the friend that is brutally honest, the one that will never tell you a lie, and the one that is asking you to dig deeper.  If you do your quick search on google you will see tons of content about “beating writer’s block” or how to “combat writer’s block”, or my favorite, “five neat tricks on how to get rid of writer’s block”.  It seems like most people on the internet think that writer’s block is the enemy.  But here is where I remind you about that other saying which says “what you resist, persists.” That one is absolutely true.

Let’s backtrack a little bit. Writer’s block didn’t start out as writer’s block. It actually was something else before you named it. What it was at first was simply a situation where you were having trouble getting ideas to flow from inspiration to paper. That’s it. And that trouble is what you fear most of all, and once you fear it, it grows out of proportion, like the child who insists there are monster beneath the bed no matter what anyone tells her. And the more evidence she hears, the more the wind knocks the trees against the windowpane, the more her fears grow, and to such an extent that she runs out of the room and into her parents’ bed. Fear makes us run for cover. When we sense that we might be stuck, that we can’t do it, or that something is blocking our path, we get scared. All sorts of fear-based stuff floods our subconscious in ways that we cannot begin to imagine, and then only later does it flood into our conscious, where we identify it simply as “writer’s block” and convince ourselves that is something that must be defeated at all costs.

So much of being adult is hiding our subconscious fears to make us look like we can handle it. Eventually we all drown. But I digress.

Then, out come the boxing gloves and you are ready to make war upon the writer’s block. At this point, you are in defensive stance.  But the more you take this defensive stance and the corresponding tactics, the more difficult it will become in its mode of offense. And even if you try to make a truce, you are still just making a truce with a much hated and feared enemy.  That enemy will always return and with more force and even more reinforcements. You are just delaying the inevitable when you do this. “But,” you might ask, “what is the inevitable? Is it the end of my writing career or the end of my dream of one?” No. The inevitable is the confrontation of the real problem, which is not writer’s block, but what writer’s block wants to offer you. Yes, writer’s block comes with many gifts, and until you understand that, it will constantly be knocking at your door. It will always be there for you, waiting to be invited in for tea, and unlike an ex-partner or ex-friend, writer’s block will never leave your side. It will never set you free. And that is simply because it loves you and desperately needs you to give it the time of day.  It is that kind of pain in the ass friend that will never give up on you even when you scream at it, kick it, and curse it to hell.

So, what is this gift? What is your friend trying to tell you?  Well, that is a question best for you to answer. But I will give you the most obvious and general points. First and foremost, writer’s block is telling you to stop writing. Yes, stop writing. I know, I know. All the articles say “WRITE AT ALL COSTS”. But I tell you, if you try to keep on writing, you are just going to make the writer’s block worse because you will be writing when you are not supposed to. “Well,” you ask, “who is telling me that I am not supposed to?”  And I answer that, truth be told, it is you telling yourself. Writer’s block is your subconscious way of telling your conscious self that you need to put down the pen.  But then you ask, “Why is that productive? I have a deadline! I have needs!” Well, imagine that you have a tiny plumber inside of you that always warns you when you have a blockage. Let’s now pretend that you ignore the tiny plumber one day when it tells you to stop eating what you have been eating, mostly because it is causing you digestive trouble. The plumber wants you to eat something else first so that you can clear yourself out and start fresh. It is kind of like that. You ignore him. You suffer more. I don’t need to tell you what you will have trouble getting rid of or what might come out. Writer’s block wants you to stop doing what you are doing so that you can do some much-needed maintenance work. Then, you can get cracking.

So what is the maintenance work? Is it five tips on how to get rid of writer’s block? No. Stop focusing on getting rid of the block. This is where it gets a little tricky because no one but you has the answer to this question. There is something you need to do or work with in order to clear some kind of blockage in your system. Vague, isn’t it?  But now that you know that writer’s block is your friend, you can legitimately start talking to it. Ask it what the problem is and really listen – turn the television or radio off. Turn off the internet and/or your phone. Get off social media. Just sit with your eyes closed and say hello to writer’s block. Give it a pleasant name. What does it feel like? Maybe it nags you or is angry – but consider that those who love you will nag at you or get angry especially when you treat them like common criminals. Start there. Then proceed into a real conversation – not one about the weather or how much time and money you don’t have, but more like a curious inquiry. What does it want to tell you? What do you need to do during this time of rest?  Let it give you the story. Behold! It might be more interesting than one of your stories.

This is a bit like meditation in that you must clear yourself of the anger or frustration with the writer’s block. Be willing to listen and to engage in discourse. Talk out loud if you have to. No one will hear except the dog or cat – hopefully. It also may be helpful to cover your eyes with an eye mask of some sort, just so you are not distracted by lights or figures. I don’t recommend soothing music as it is a distraction. Just begin with your heartbeat, and then your breath. Just listen. If you get uncomfortable and bored, notice that. You don’t like sitting with yourself. How can a writer not like sitting with themselves? This is strange, that I would not enjoy this. I sit with myself all the time, writing. Notice that discomfort. Try again. Be curious about the discomfort. Is there a relationship between the discomfort with myself and the writer’s block? Do we both annoy ourselves equally as much? Listen to the answer. Just listen. Repeat this, as if you were trying to get a child to sit still at the dinner table. It takes patience, kindness, and love to do this. Find that within yourself. If you can’t find that right now, that is okay. It is just more work to do, which is awesome, because originally with writer’s block, nothing was happening. Now you have something to focus on. Keep exploring until something starts to flow. Don’t expect this process to be comfortable. It isn’t and never will be. Comfort breeds familiarity and familiarity doesn’t breed what is fresh and new. Get to know your new friend, writer’s block.

Okay, so that was just a suggestion of what you can do to begin a relationship with writer’s block. At the core of writer’s block is simply you. You are the block. But it is not like you are doing this with conscious intention, just like your heart doesn’t beat because you are conscious of it. No. So much of our lives – in fact, most of it – is run subconsciously. And yet, when we are trying to fix writer’s block, we are using our conscious mind to “fix” the situation because it isn’t a desirable state to be in. We think we have to be constantly writing, ever inspired, ever flowing from the mouth of the nine muses. We know better, but we behave as if nature – our nature included – needs to abide by the publisher’s deadlines. Whatever it is we think we are supposed to be, we are not that – at all. We are more like the surface of an ocean that can barely see anything below it. Don’t even mention the bottom, because we will never experience that without dying first. So, relax, and begin looking at some of the benefits and gifts of writer’s block. I will start with just a few.

Friendly Reminders
Writer’s block is your subconscious way of saying take a breather. It is the subconscious wanting your conscious mind to engage it.  It also is suggesting that you are not utilizing your full potential. There is something stopping you from being the best writer you can be, and it isn’t writer’s block. If you keep persisting by trying to get rid of the writer’s block, it may move out of the way a little bit just because your ego is a battering ram, but it will be back later in full force. And one day it might bring one hundred battering rams. That brings us to the next point.

I’ll Be Back
Writer’s block teaches you that you can ignore it and kick it to the curb, but that this measure is only a temporary fix. It will be back, and better than ever: more prepared, and well-armed.  You will also notice that the more it returns, the more you can be sure that your creative juices will fall to a trickle. You may output the writing you want, but it is not going to inspire you.   You will then begin the process of looking for inspiration, which is better than fighting writer’s block. Maybe you will go on a vacation or just take a hike or learn something new – anything at all to get you out of everyday habits and behaviors. You might finally put down the pen and do something else. That is a good first step. Don’t do what some do: party, drink, drugs, sex. You know why.

This Wonderful Life
Writer’s block will always show you where you are stuck and so it will always show you where you need to open doors to let in more creative passion and inspiration. Once you get used to being friendly with it, instead of trying to combat it, you will be excited when it arrives. You will ask it where you can let in some more fresh air, and it will be glad to show you the way. Your creative output will increase exponentially as you do this more and more. It is not easy at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Expand your Mind and Heart
As you engage with writer’s block in a more powerful and loving manner, you will discover how it has allowed you to expand both your mind and your heart, into places you didn’t know were possible. You will become larger, more expansive in your viewpoints, and deeper in your storytelling. You took the time to meditate and dialogue with your inner voice and you will be rewarded with the proper flow of ideas, just like you are rewarded with healthy blood flow when you take care of your body. You will be amazed because you will get to a point where the “block” happens only for a few minutes, while the rest of the time, the ideas don’t stop flowing. You might have so many ideas that you won’t know what to do with them all. But that is a different sort of problem.

At the risk of become overly exhaustive and verbose, I will close this discussion here.  I do not profess to have solutions for solving individual issues of writer’s block, but I do hope that you take to heart the main point which is that that writer’s block is not something to fight against. It is not “bad”. It is not something you should ignore by trying to write through it and get to some imagined overflow of creative downstream. You are in your body. You are in your spirit. You are in the world. You are of this world, of nature, and her flow. Sometimes it is time to listen to what stops us, because what stops is comes as a friendly and loving warning or piece of advice. In world that encourages non-stop relentless work and the cultivation of an ego that takes no prisoners, we first might want to admit that we stand in the way of our dreams because we think we need to work so hard to have them, when the truth is the answers and the guidance are right there with us all along if we would stop, take a break, and give them the time of day to have a dialogue with us. All we have to do is listen, engage, and allow. Then all your gifts begin to flow in abundance.