Why is writer’s block so special? 


Writer’s block.  The dreaded period of time in which you cannot think, cannot imagine, cannot produce, and cannot please.  Actually, I’m not even sure I can describe it because it manifests itself differently in every one of us.

So what happens if you have it?  Do you feel like you can tell other people?

I certainly would.

What’s the response? Usually, it involves an encouraging pat on the back, a barrage of reassurances, followed by a “don’t worry, you’ll get out of it soon!”. How nice to have support during the tough time.

The underlying causes for writer’s block vary.  Sometimes, it’s a busy time in your life, sometimes it’s a devastating one.  Sometimes there may be an underlying mental health issue, and sometimes it may simply be that you didn’t get enough sleep last week.  But no matter what, your acquaintances are accepting and willing to be dismissed with the magic words “Oh,  I have writer’s block.” As a society, we even make cute romantic comedies about this—a writer who is suddenly un-blocked when she meets the right guy.  This sends the message that no matter the variance in cause, writer’s block is clearly not something to worry about.

Why don’t we get that same support with any other kind of “block?” Why is writing the only profession that has a socially acceptable form of “I am simply not capable of completing this task right now”?  Many people who are not writers struggle with the same underlying causes mentioned above.  Not having a word for it, they struggle to explain it to their acquaintances.  They lose the support of their friends and family because of their complaints.  They lose their job because the boss sees “block” as laziness.  We make movies about this too, only they fall in a very different genre.  We do not have a positive response to any other kind of block.

Why such a great divide between writing and the rest of the world?

I don’t know, but here’s a few hypotheses:

  1. Our society is terrible at addressing and categorizing mental health. Perhaps what we see as “block” in writers, we deem lapse in creativity, while in employees, we see only apathy
  2. Writers, those creative bastards, came up with the term themselves so as to throw the rest of us normal for a loop
  3. Writer’s block was invented with the connotation of something reassuringly temporary (which may not be true). Having any other kind of block is variable, the duration is unknown. This can make the issue appear scarier and more serious.


Maybe I’m exaggerating and oversimplifying all of this—I don’t have much serious experience with any kind of block—but it does seem like an issue to me.  Are my perceptions accurate?  Do you understand the cause? Let me know your thoughts.


P.S. I’m writing this now because I have coder’s block.


3 thoughts on “Why is writer’s block so special? 

  1. soulandmeat says:

    This is so great! I love the first hypothesis you offer. It lends itself seamlessly to a conversation I had with a friend of mine recently in which we were discussing the fact that everyone should have access to a therapist these days. Another possible explanation–although we all use creativity in our daily lives, this term is largely attributed only to those involved in the arts. So when we experience blocks in creativity outside of such arts, whether it be in rethinking marketing strategy or figuring out how to motivate and empower employees, the unfamiliarity and lack of title leaves the experience misunderstood.

    Hypothesis 2 (also right on point): Perhaps the acceptance of writer’s block among writers is a result of the culture–they’ve all experienced it and therefore understand and expect it. And from that establishment of understanding and support, it is spread throughout literary and film industries as you’ve noted above to the greater population. Writers dish it, we all consume it; whereas with, say, coders, output is consumed by the masses in a much more passive manner leaving other such blocks underrepresented and misunderstood.

    P.S: Good luck on the coder’s block–currently experiencing life block over here, but, hey, it’s temporary, right?

    1. seasaltandvinegar says:

      Wow, what a thoughtful response! I’m glad I’m not the only one witnessing this phenomenon. I also like your alternative explanation–everyone in the arts knows it, and everyone else fears it. Maybe instead of all that team building nonsense, we should encourage professional development involving “block” training and support. Although universal access to a therapist could also do wonders.

      And I can’t really help with life block, but I can say that when I’m disgustingly rich, I would definitely hire you to write eloquent pieces about societal problems!

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