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What is the "White Page Terror"?

I take issue with writer's block being treated like a disease unto itself, and my reason for coming to this conclusion can be substantiated with evidence in the form of, for one, an Edmund Bergler. I discussed his work previously in light of his published written work on why "normal people don't feel compelled to write" (Bergler, 1950).

A primary flaw in Bergler's reasoning is that he failed to recognize the nuance of relationships that can exist between a writer and their work. In a field [or a world] where very little, if anything, can be universally true, there will be people who need something concrete. Bergler's full body of work can be said to indicate this and more besides.

Thankfully, many have come to understand that a person's chosen occupation and the associated hazards of that occupation aren't diseases to be cured. This doesn't necessarily mean that the occupation cannot affect one's health. There are certain types of therapy that can be pursued when a person has what Patricia Hurston identifies as a "recalcitrant block."

In Hurston's 1998 "Resolving Writer's Block", she identifies three levels of severity upon which writer's block can exist. The identifiers aren't strict which indicates that particular blocks can easily tow the line between any two types or all types at once. She associates each type of block with different recommendations. A writer's needs will differ depending on the characteristics of their block.

She opens her piece describing a phenomenon known as "white page terror," which is a very specific block. In this block, a writer is anxiously staring at a blank page or screen. They've resolved to write, but if they write something down, it might not work or they might feel like they have to keep it. It's a multifaceted type of block, and a very interesting one as well, but it's still one very distinct type.

The abstract as well as the rest of the piece gives the impression that it would address many different types of blocks, but she equates blocks with "white page terror" early enough that it immediately limits the discourse.

Hurston also states that her primary demographic is physicians writing articles for medical journals, but the advice given is very accessible for anyone who writes and is interested in developing or expanding their tool sets. I'm still unsure as to whether blocks are a thing to be diagnosed.

She says, "Writer's block is generally considered to be a stress reaction that paralyzes the ability to put thoughts into words...An analogy might be someone who wants to drive a car on a trip. Although the car is in gear and the foot is on the gas pedal, the person is not going anywhere because anticipatory anxiety has compelled the driver to put on the emergency brake" (Hurston, 1998).

Again, I think we're limiting the discourse. Someone might want to drive a car on the trip and might not have the necessary key to start the car in the first place. Anticipatory anxiety can just as easily affect a driver who is merging onto a highway. That said, blocks can definitely cause stress, but if we identify a block by its ability to invoke stress, we remove the writers for who react differently to their blocks, even celebrating them. However, I appreciate how broad the three categories of blocks are made out to be.

A mild blockage, Hurston states, is rooted in unrealistic expectations of the self and the writing product. The resolutions offered for a mild blockage show me that a mild blockage is the result of external environmental concerns. There's the environment of the writing space and there's everything that's happening around the writing space.

Hurston suggests breaking up the larger writing task into smaller manageable tasks, optimize the space in which the person is writing, and to generally assess one's own expectations.

Hurston also says that a moderate blockage might be occurring if changes to the environment don't solve the block. She recommends mind mapping, going back to planning stages, and addressing imposter syndrome. Moderate blockages, to me, seem to be blocks associated with internal concerns.

Recalcitrant blockage is a type that Hurston recommends outside assistance and possibly some types of therapy and support groups are for.

The idea behind these three groups is that, for a particular block, if the solutions that pertain to a mild blockage do not work, a writer would ascend to solutions for moderate and then recalcitrant. What I like about the categories is that they do address multiple areas in which blocks can exist and that they are solution-focused. They're also broad enough that different solutions can address different elements of the blocks and that they can coincide.

In that sense, I think these categories are a movement in the right direction. I don't necessarily see a progression, however, between a block that primarily affects the external environment as one that affects the internal. More simply, I take issue with the naming of the stages, especially recalcitrant blockage.

Blocks, by nature, are disruptive and don't fall in with the pattern that the writer sets up. They're often not considered as a normal part of a writing process, at least not by name. For me, what Hurston terms as a recalcitrant blockage is an indication that a block is a small part of a larger life obstacle (such as in motivation or productivity) for which a solution curated towards writing alone might not help as much.

We've come a long way in research on writing blocks, and it's time that the research reaches the practitioners.


Thank you to everyone who has participated, engaged, or given any form of feedback to Purposeful Prose thus far!

We will never be done with our discussions on writers' block even when that discussion has been properly revised. Next week, look forward to a further exploration into Loaded Language. I am very excited about this project, and a few supplemental articles were sent to me as suggestions of further reading. I cannot wait to get to those as well!

If you would like more Purposeful Prose content, you can follow my LinkedIn page. If you want to be the first to be notified when I've posted an article, you can become a member. Members can interact with my posts and join discussions in my forum.

This article I read for today is available for free. You can click here if you are interested in reading it. It's very eloquently presented, and I did enjoy reading it even if I do disagree with some of the points or mentally frame them differently. I think that it offers some very good writing-related advice and some insight into further research.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Bergler, E. (1950). Does" writer's block" exist?. American Imago, 7(1), 43-54.

Huston P. (1998). Resolving writer's block. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 44, 92–97.

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2 comentarios

04 mar 2022

Fascinating that analysis of writer's block extends across half a century (and probably beyond). Disease or not, it seems to be something that people readily recognize and stand ready to prescribe remedies for!

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Vita Viviano
Vita Viviano
04 mar 2022

Very good review of Hurston's work. A recalcitrant block does sound pretty scary and, as you say, it's difficult to understand and accept that blocks are somehow born/developed and can grow through these prescriptive stages. Once again, wonderful analysis! Thank you!

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