Writer's block is an essential part of the life of a developing writer and, further, anyone who writes. Writing communities, for years, have given writer's block a negative connotation when it's not fully deserved. It's frustrating to reach a point in writing where there is difficulty in finding the perfect words to express intention and this is a common sentiment. However, it's still important to, at some point, have those blocks.
Having writer's block means that the writer is concerned about voice, about intention, and about accuracy of topic knowledge. Most importantly, without writer's block, there are no complex goals to be navigated. While one of my goals in the beginning of this blog was to get to the root of writer's block, I fell into the pitfall of seeing writer's block as one of those problems to be solved and not as a tool in that can address what those problems are. This tool, then, becomes a caveat for exploring that problem and expressing that solution and the process by which that solution can be found.
This is my first article on writer's block. My focus here was how to close the gap between plan and text and how increased planning can be used to not necessarily solve writer's block, but how to navigate abstract goals. This presents a reframing of what writer's block is, and because there are so many misconceptions in relation to writer's block, that's a key part of figuring out how to use it.
Donald H. Graves explains this concept very well in his essay entitled "Blocking and the Young Writer." He describes how different types of blocking manifest themselves in younger children, possible reasons why these blocks exist, and how the navigation of those blocks are expected to develop over time. This was written in 1985, so it does use a different understanding of what we know about these subjects, but he does bring up interesting points that do relate to our current understanding of writer's block and how it manifests.
Graves begins by addressing that blocks that are present in young writers can be attributed to a multitude of factors and can't always be reduced to a developmental issue, that there are environmental factors to consider as well. A young writer, he states, might equate difficulty spelling with an inability to find information that they feel they have the ability to express. More simply, they might not feel as though they can write because they have difficulty spelling. This might seem like a broad leap, but when we take into account that both spelling and understanding topic knowledge are fundamental skills that are usually learned and reinforced at the same time, it makes sense that a developing writer might have these anxieties. The good news is that it's entirely possible to reassure the young writer that they do have skills in writing and that spelling can easily be practiced.
Writer's block happens, Graves asserts, because writers change over time. I would agree with that assertion. This would mean that everyone who writes improves as they continue practicing and working on specific skills, but it's also important to address what, overall, changes. These changes can be found in priorities, what is important to a writer in terms of both content and mechanical skill. Also, writer's change the way they use their medium for writing. Third, writers conceptualize audience differently.
It's important to emphasize here that a misunderstanding of conventions (you might notice that I don't use the word "grammar" as that's usually only associated with mechanics) that writing must abide by according to educational system, region, etc. can contribute to blocks. There are writers, for example, who need to change their habits to reflect the conventions of another system for educational purposes or their job. It's understandable that these blocks exist, but undergoing those changes means that the writer is in the process of learning to adapt to new expectations, something that all people do. A writer from the US might travel to the UK, learn conventions associated with that region, and come away with a new understanding of what expectations for writing could look like. Alternatively, someone from a different position might be sending an email to a new boss for the first time and then use the new boss' response to that email to adjust their communication style accordingly. Having blocks at any of these stages is key to learning how to become a more versatile writer.
Blocks can also happen when a writer learns to revise or, to any extent, self-critique at any age. Graves states that when children are learning to revise for the first time, that is early exposure to the idea that information is not always fixed and while something that is written can feel permanent, that it doesn't have to be. The more that people become aware of that idea, the more that this can improve a person's relationship with revision. Often, this isn't seen as writer's block and, as a result, it's not treated that way. Information can still feel permanent, especially when developing an effective argument. Sometimes, that information needs to be used in a different way or needs to be omitted if it does not adequately contribute to the goal of the piece. A writer might feel attached to that information somehow. They might feel more comfortable writing about that as opposed to other things. That is an example of a complex goal to be navigated. How that goal can be navigated is dependent on the writing task.
This leads to another important point, that the writer must also be the reader and cannot always assume that certain information is implied. The example that Graves uses is of a child who attended her aunt's wedding. The child explained what happened and how things looked. A reader might assume that the child had a good time at the wedding. In reality, this child had mixed feelings about what the wedding would mean for their relationship to their aunt. It's not that the child [or anyone] is obligated to share personal details about events like this, but it is to state that the child's description of the wedding does not indicate what it means to them. It is possible for a writer to be unaware that they are experiencing a block in this way. They might feel as though they are fully expressing what they mean to say based on connotations of words, based on what their focus appears to be, when the reader cannot assume these things. Again, this is something that is not always associated with writer's block, but when treated as such, can be easier to navigate as a question to be answered rather than broadly "missing information."
While this essay mostly speaks through example and relates mostly to the development of children in writing, a lot of these tools can be adapted for use for experienced writers as well. A child isn't often taught, in these exact words, that developmental and environmental factors that make writing difficult. It takes time and a continued progression of self-awareness into adulthood to get more of a scope on what those difficulties are and how to navigate them using the language most appropriate to the situation.
Since writer's block exists, we can recognize that progression and develop that language. In sum, writer's block can be a useful problem-solving tool and doesn't have to be a hinderance. In this series, which will be alternated with my ongoing series on post-process theory, I hope to uncover different ways that writer's block can be understood and used.
Thank you again to all of my readers, to all of those who have gotten something from my work, and those who have offered continued support and engagement in the Purposeful Prose community. Members of the Purposeful Prose community can "like" and comment on my posts and participate in my forum. If there is anything further that you would like for me to research on the subject of writing or anything that you would like to ask, feel free to contact me. Your inquiry might be the subject of a new post or series!
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Graves, D. H. (1985). Blocking and the young writer. When a writer can’t write, 1-18.