Are You Important Enough to Have Writer’s Block?

Setting by Jann Alexander © 2013

Setting by Jann Alexander © 2013


Paul O’Dwyer:“What are you writing?”
Pete Hamill: “Nothing Paul, I think I have some kind of block.”
O’Dwyer: “You are not important enough to have writer’s block.”

What’s your definition of writer’s block?

Austrian-born psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler first conferred the term writer’s block on creative individuals (mainly writers) who had difficulty “coming up with original ideas or being able to produce work” in 1947. But he was wrong about creative inhibition being a condition that mainly afflicted writers. Creative individuals from all disciplines—yes, writers, but also designers, artists, photographers, illustrators, filmmakers—encounter creative blocks once in a while.

Visual artists, designers, marketing pros and writers, too, who are thwarted by creative blocks can explore these top five (of the many) resources devoted to overcoming creative inhibition:

But before you go down the rabbit hole of strategies and ideas for unblocking your creative inhibition (a wonderful term for writer’s block coined by author/critic Joan Acocella, writing in The New Yorker), you may want to consider Irish politician Paul O’Dwyer’s frank advice to journalist and writer Pete Hamill in the late 1960s:

“You are not important enough to have writer’s block.”

Paul O’Dwyer to writer Pete Hamill *  

* PETE HAMILL, as told to Robert Birnbaum in Identity Theory: “I have told this story before—after Bobby Kennedy was murdered and I was there. I was so distraught that my then wife and two little kids—we went off to Mexico for a month, just to get away from the media and the endless rehashing of it. After the funeral. And we made our way back. All the way to New York. And I am home about two days and I run into Paul O’Dwyer who was a wonderful Irish politician. And he asked, “What are you doing, what are you writing?” I said, “Nothing Paul, I think I have some kind of block.” And he looks at me and says [in an Irish accent], “Ach, you are not important enough to have writer’s block.” And I said, “You know Paul, you’re absolutely right.” And I went back to work the next day and started writing and haven’t stopped since. I don’t know how to do anything else.”

The key is to stay committed to your creative practice. You can step away from it, as you reflect upon why you do it, and think about how well you do it. Above all, think about how well you do it. The sun will set. But it will rise again—and so will you. That’s when you’ll be ready to go do it. 

What’s your strategy for combating creative blocks?

Want to learn more about my upcoming novel? Subscribe HEREFor more on the art of writing, look HERE. Stroll through my art prints and paintings HERE. Or just find some inspiration among 45 quotes on writing, art and creativity, HERE.When I’m unblocked, I unleash my creativity at my blog, Pairings, and keep it all together at my website, JannAlexander.com


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5 replies

  1. Really wonderful post Jann with what promises to be some good resources to check out when things are rough. 🙂

    As for my strategy — none in particular – other than throwing a complete hissy fit, berating myself and my over-inflated ego, then indulging in some particular vice or other. After this tantrum, as long or short lived as it may be, I stop, pause and then try to be rational – and more self-nurturing. A change of pace, space, or scenery, even something as simple as going to a new coffee shop or visiting a flea market can offer breathing room for new ideas. Nature adventures – simply a hike or walk – is truly a great way to stop the craziness and allow time to just let it all be.

    Inspiration comes from all sources and directions, and sometimes just not “trying so hard” and being flexible enough to be “silly and childish or childlike in innocence” is enough to start allowing for a new flow to emerge.

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    • Pat, I love this idea you mention, “breathing room for new ideas” — that’s often what it takes. As you say, a change of scenery (for me, it needs to be a fairly vibrant one) allows us to recharge, refresh, and hit it again. Thanks for commenting. Hope you enjoy the links—please let me know which ones are most helpful, once you’ve had time to peruse them. Happy Creating!

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  2. Beautiful photo and superb post. My strategies are: flicking through a dictionary; being stimulated by ‘an opposite medium’ meaning if I’m writing an article- read some poetry, if I’m to write fiction- watch a documentary etc.; music is a good one, especially if it’s something you wouldn’t normally listen too; and articles like this help too!

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  3. There’s something truth to this: let go of self-consciousness of being “creative” or trying to be “creative”. Just let it go awhile and pick up the pen, computer or paintbrush. Just do it. Don’t overthink it to get started, restarted, etc.

    I’ve wondered if I had to be a “true” artist for a living, to bring bread to the table and keep a roof over my head, it I would more miserable/anguished for non-creative times.

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    • There is a complete luxury to being creative without the need to be creative for a living. That said, there may be more of an honesty that comes with the making a living part. I’ve never had to test the theory, though, luckily for me. Food for thought, thank you, Jean!

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