Deconstructing writer’s block

What is writer’s block?

It is sitting at the table to write, but not having the words to follow through. Anybody who has written for a while has experienced it. I have experienced it several times. I still do, as I type out these words. More broadly, this can be called the artist’s block, because every creative profession seems to suffer from it. But what makes these professions unique? Why do plumbers not have plumber’s block? Why do carpenters not have carpenter’s block? Few things could be more disastrous than surgeon’s block!

This is partly because of the inherent randomness of the quality of output in creative processes. By definition, creativity does not follow a set process. Creativity taps into a different part of the brain than the one used to perform logical, repeatable processes.  No wonder that albums released by musicians, different works of painters, and books published by authors can vary so widely in the quality of their output.

But this variation alone is not enough. Additionally, there is the tendency to hold on to one’s last good piece of work. The tendency to allow build one’s perception around “a hit” and the tendency to not fall down from these standards. Again, the wiring of our brain is to blame here. Our tribalistic need to protect our reputation has helped us survive through our evolution. It now holds us back by inducing fear into our next creative project by whispering to us, “if you can’t make it better, you are better off not trying”. Moreover, the better we get, the louder this voice whispers.

This combination of wide variation in quality, and clinging to one’s best work is what causes the crippling phenomenon of writer’s block. All prolific artists who overcome writer’s block embrace bad work. They approach the creative process like a routine. They realize that the only way to write better than their best work, is to follow through with 5 bad ones, so that the 6th work will rise to the occasion.

And by doing so, they kill writer’s block before it kills them.

Inspiration: Seth Godin’s excellent podcast – Akimbo

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