J Bov Explodes Rhetorically

On Writer’s Block

‘Writer’s block’ is a term that almost everyone has heard and a state that a good many people have experienced.

It is the name given to a feeling or belief that one is simply ‘unable’ to write experienced over a period of time, anything from a day or two up to years at a time.

But what is it?

Some people believe that it does not exist. Acclaimed author Warren Ellis, the man behind the seminal comic Transmetropolitan, has stated “… [Someone with ‘writer’s block’] isn’t a fucking writer anymore. The job is getting up in the morning and fucking writing.”

This, while harsh, is a fairly erudite explanation of how it feels to be ‘afflicted’.


I’m of the opinion, seeing as I have a lot of time to think about this kind of thing, that writer’s block can be classified as a very mild psychological breakdown.

Let me tell you my experience(s) with this particular ailment:


I’ve run into writer’s block a couple of times and it has a very distinct feeling about it. It’s not even remotely similar to what one might feel in school, say, when faced with an essay or exam and cannot think what to write next. That’s a momentary frustration that can be overcome by remembering that you do in fact know the answer to the question.

Writer’s block is more insidious than that. It’s a slithery, slimy bastard that sneaks into your mind and squats there, nibbling on your brain every now and then when it gets bored. It’s sneaky, in that it makes you want to write, then stops you from doing it.


Now, I say ‘stops you’; there’s actually nothing physically stopping you from putting words on the page. There isn’t even anything hindering your vocabulary or fiddling with the way you write. It just feels like there is.

That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that this situation is, or at least is caused by, a very low-lying crisis of confidence or even an existential one. I’ve gone to write something and caught myself thinking ‘What’s the point?’ or ‘Why even bother?’ The belief that you could write something, but it would ultimately be terrible, unreadable drivel is a prime factor of writer’s block.

I’m forcing myself to write this through a hefty bought of it, and I can tell you that the horrible little gremlin in my head is telling me to delete every word and start over. I can also tell you that if I did delete every word the gremlin would then tell me there’s no point in starting again, and I’d probably abandon the piece altogether.

It’s that aspect that is the most interesting to me, and I wonder if people who don’t suffer from writer’s block are simply happier, more enthusiastic, more optimistic people.

It conjures the image of the tortured artist, slashing yesterday’s paintings in a fit of rage because they are ‘awful’, even after a gallery has offered to buy them. As cliché as that seems, that’s roughly what one can expect to be going on in a writer’s head when they tell you they have this malady. It’s very cyclic, to the point that it’s almost bipolar.


As I said; it comes in waves. There are periods of time where, at least for me, I feel like everything I write is gold dust and I can’t put a word wrong. There are others where I feel like every single idea I have is shit or stolen or stupid or a stupid, shitty idea that I stole. It’s so hard to fight through that and produce something, because even if you do part of you still thinks ‘This is awful. I must destroy all evidence of its existence.’

There are vast novels floating in the void or filling the shelves of Deaths library with my name on the cover because I’ve written something then immediately confined it to oblivion. (I like to think destroyed literature ends up somewhere).


There are ways around it, however. Forcing oneself to write something, anything, is one way, as long as you can convince yourself to keep going and then not to delete it upon completion. That’s part of the reason I like writing in notebooks; it’s not as easy to delete a physical object. There are exercises you can find in books and online that claim to help with writer’s block. Any and all writers will give you no end of various kinds of advice, some of it useful, some of it not.


The trouble is it’s a very personal problem. The prevailing feeling is that you know you can’t write right now, even though people tell you that you can. The truth of the matter, however, is that those people are right. You can still do it, you just feel like if you try to you’ll produce something sub-par.

Maybe you will, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fix it. Or write something else.

Writer’s block is as personal as writing itself, in that you may have certain music you like to listen to as you write, or certain sounds or sights that completely throw you off kilter and stop you being able to think straight.


As though to provide evidence to myself, I’m really struggling to write this last paragraph. Something in my head is screaming that this is all self-indulgent nonsense and to get rid of it immediately, but I refuse to give in.

That’s really all one can do in this situation. Dig in your heels, bite down on a stick and force yourself forwards. Of course you can still write; you just need to remember that.

J Bov.