Writer’s block

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As Joan Acocella has pointed out, writer’s block is a modern notion. It’s fake. It’s not real.

A professional basketball player doesn’t step up to the free-throw line and forget how to shoot a free-throw. A professional bus driver doesn’t wonder how to drive a bus.

They shoot. They drive. Because they are professionals. The professional shows up even if they don’t feel like showing up. They do their job. They do their work.

So why then do writers get this pass off feeling blocked?

Steve Pressfield calls this Resistance. Resistance is the noise in our head that keeps up from being the person we are born to be. That noise is the amygdala.

The amygdala is two small nuclei about the size of an almond that connects directly to the spinal cord. It can react two to three seconds faster before the prefrontal cortex kicks into reason with the situation.

So when someone yells Fore!, the amygdala reacts and tells us to duck. We don’t sit there and bargain, we react to keep us safe.

The problem is, like most of our brains, it has no capacity for language. So it doesn’t understand the difference between a text from the boss and a threat of a sabertooth tiger.

According to the amygdala, both are just as threatening to our survival.

So, when the writer sits down to type, Resistance begins to show up. It begins to lay out the reasons why we are not good enough. Why we will fail. It subverts us from shipping our work so that we won’t be criticized.

Subsequently, we too often decide it is better to play it safe. Then, we quit.

We quit because it’s easier to maintain the status quo than it is to rock the boat. We quit because of Resistance. Because we are afraid. The story we begin to tell ourselves is, “I’m blocked. I have no good ideas.”

We grab on to the narrative of writer’s block because of how it makes us feel. We think we can let ourselves off the hook. That we can pause from doing scary work util we get unstuck.

The only way to become unstuck, to become unblocked is to do the work. To write. And then write some more. Write until the writing turns into better writing. No excuses. Just sit down on the chair and type.

Step up to the line. Shoot your shot.

HT Seth Godin.

Edit: This was in my inbox the next day. Ironic. But as the article so poignantly points out at the end, “It’s free to start.” What more do you need?

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