8 Writers on How to Face Writer’s Block and the Blank Page: Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates & More

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.

In this short video made for the Louisiana Chan­nel (a YouTube chan­nel for the Louisiana Muse­um of Mod­ern Art in Den­mark), the blank page is any­thing but ter­ri­fy­ing for the eight authors inter­viewed.

“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!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of 96 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers to Read

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

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.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.