For those who write for a living, the issue of writer’s block doesn’t come up as often as television and movies may have others believe. Sure, there’s plenty of times where the words don’t flow like they should. Or a writer may find they’ve written drivel and start again. Or the beginning proves elusive. Or the end proves tricky. But that cliché of the harried writer, sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper (maybe with the daunting “Chapter One” hovering at the top)? Maybe not so much.
“I don’t think writer’s block actually exists,” says Philipp Meyer. “It’s basically insecurity. It’s your own internal critic turned up to a higher level than it’s supposed to be at that moment...The point is to get something down on paper.”
Alaa Al-Aswany makes the most philosophical point, calling writing the “conflict between what you want to say and what you could say.”
Many of the authors interviewed, like Jonathan Franzen, Lydia Davis, and Joyce Carol Oates agree on a similar point: the writer’s mind must have prepped and written and researched long before the body sits and the hands write. “By the time I come to the blank page I have many things to say,” Oates says.
For other writers, the blank page is a symbol of potential. For David Mitchell it’s a door that opens onto infinity. For Margaret Atwood, the page “beckons you in to write something on it. It must be filled.”
Daniel Kehlmann fills his in longhand and calls it “deeply satisfying” even though writing that first draft is the “least joyful part of writing.”
In the final minute, David Mitchell does tackle the idea of a writer’s block, but his suggestion is not worth spoiling, so go ahead and watch the whole thing. And if you’re a writer watching this video because you’re procrastinating...get back to work!
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.