Huffpost UK Culture uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Deborah C Dooley Headshot

The Brilliant, the Average and the Blocked

Posted: Updated:

Writer's block. A pretentious term coined by those who can't be bothered to write.

I realise that in committing those words to print, I am running the risk of a kind of literary fatwa.

Even as I type, I imagine myself being hounded and heckled by hordes of frustrated and angry writers, helpless in the grip of a horrible and inexplicable inability to pursue their chosen craft and baying for the blood of anyone who undermines their suffering. Nevertheless I stand firm in my opinion that writer's block exists only in the minds of those who need a label for their unwillingness to get down to the job in hand. It's worth mentioning here that some writers also fall prey to another nasty writerly affliction called procrastination. This manifests itself in a similar way to writer's block, by preventing the wretched writer from writing.

If you are a writer, you may have had the experience of picking up a book, reading a few chapters and then casting it aside in disgust, crying (or at least thinking) 'I could have written a book ten times better than this one!' Which of course may well be true. But the vital difference in this scenario is that you didn't - and the author did. That's the thing about writing. You can plan to do it, talk about doing it and dream about doing it. But at some point, you have to actually do it. You have to write.

One of the first things I learned as a journalist was that average copy filed on time is worth much more than brilliant copy filed late. Because - not withstanding its brilliance, the latter almost certainly won't see the light of day. Editors who have to fill pages every week and every day, need to know that they can count on enough words to do the job. And if your copy isn't there, they'll use someone else's. I've never actually tried to explain to an editor that my copy will be late because I'm suffering from writer's block, but I'm confident I know what kind of response would have been forthcoming.

As the owner of a writer's retreat, I've encountered writers who say they have writer's block. The cure, I've discovered, is simple. We sit at the kitchen table, tea and banana bread to hand (this may be an optional part of the cure) and I ask the afflicted one what they would like to write. They tell me - usually with eloquence. After a few minutes, I ask them to write down what they are telling me.
They do.