Champlain Professors Discuss Writer’s Block

Lately, we’ve been into publishing content that can help you out in your career, including posts about exploitation and technical freelancing tips. Something we rarely ever do, though, is reach out to the professors who gave us the knowledge that we’re passing onto you. I decided to reach out to the writing professors here at Champlain and get their opinions on writer’s block. I sent them all a questionnaire, and a small sampling graciously responded (which I am forever grateful for, considering this isn’t only a busy time of year for us students). There were a variety of responses—all in depth and all worthwhile.


So, what are your thoughts on writer’s block?


“I think the door is always open for writers/artists/musicians to access their creativity and make it manifest in their medium. Writer’s block has acquired a kind of mythic status that can psych a writer from producing. When the juices aren’t flowing, some writers have a tendency to take the easy way out and say they’re stuck with writer’s block. I’m not minimizing the pain and discomfort that writers feel when they aren’t producing. But ‘aren’t’ and ‘can’t’ belie different perspectives. I don’t believe in writer’s block because a writer can choose external stimuli that can excite and inspire them in ways that can jump-start their creativity.” —Warren Baker, Professional Writing Program Director


“I think there are moments when you feel more creative than others, but I also think that you need to push through those ‘blocked’ periods as much as possible. Usually, a block isn’t that you’re in a bad place creatively—it’s that there’s something in the project that isn’t working and you haven’t figured out what it is yet. In order to get past that, you often need to just keep writing and experimenting rather than giving in to those negative feelings.” —Rachel Carter, Adjunct Faculty


“Whether or not you believe in writer’s block depends on how you define writer’s block. If you think it’s a total inability to write anything, then I don’t believe in it. If it’s an inability to work on a particular project, then I do believe in it, particularly if that project comes from somewhere deep within the writer and particularly at the rough draft stage. In this case, both internal and external forces can extinguish creativity at least temporarily. That said, I have never had writer’s block as a reporter. I’ve gotten the material from my sources, I know what the story is, I have a deadline (and a known income), and I can always write. It’s fiction that’s the challenge.” —Kathy Quimby-Johnson, Adjunct Faculty


“There are many ways to get stuck as a writer, but to call any of them ‘writer’s block’ doesn’t help. It is at best a misunderstanding of the way writing happens and at worst a way to sabotage yourself…. I’m not saying that writing always comes easily to me and if it doesn’t come easily to you, there’s something wrong with you. Every writer runs into all kinds of obstacles—and that’s exactly the point I’m making. Writing consists of a considerable number of different activities, and different problems can derail you at different stages in the writing process. The reason why I’m against the phrase writer’s block is that it doesn’t help you figure out what’s holding you up, or what to do about it.” —Excerpt from First-Time Author by Tim Brookes, Associate Professor


What would you tell students if they were “suffering from writer’s block?”


“[I would tell them] to expose themselves to external stimuli that can get them in gear. Reading works well for me. Any writer has to discover for themselves what works best without any self-judgment. If standing on one’s head or going to the movies or walking backward up a set of stairs works, then do it. Do what works in sacrifice to the art, which is the greater good.” —Warren Baker


“They need to start looking at their work intentionally—becoming aware of the deliberate choices that they’re making in their narrative. The concept of ‘writer’s block’ seems to take the blame off of the author and assign it to some outside source that we have no control over. But in reality, we’re always controlling that narrative, that story. How much work we’re producing may vary day by day, but the more awareness we have around our own choices, the less common ‘writer’s block’ becomes.” —Rachel Carter


“If you are struck by writer’s block, and the cause isn’t obvious (the death of someone close to you, a major Big World event [9/11, the recent election]), ask yourself what’s going on. What’s the source of the block? Is there something you’re afraid to reveal? Why? If the cause is obvious, give yourself a break. You’re a writer, but you’re also human and events that pack powerful emotions must be experienced and processed before you are able to return to your work.” —Kathy Quimby-Johnson


As you can see, our writing professors have very strong opinions—but their opinions are justified and reasonable. If you find yourself in one of these blocks again, consider what the four of them have said. Can you apply any of it? Can you find a way to push through? (I’ll give you a hint: the answer is yes.)