Chip MacGregor

July 25, 2014

On Writer's Block (a guest post)


There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

There! I’ve gone and said it.

Writer’s block is a condition belonging to those who can afford to indulge in it. Me? I’ve got deadlines. If the muses aren’t feeling up to snuff, so be it.  I’m still going to be sitting in that chair banging out words every day. If the muse isn’t cooperating, the words aren’t going to be fabulous, and they will have to be rewritten, or maybe even tossed in the trash can, but by gum those keys are clacking along in spite of any lack of enthusiasm. I tell myself, just write, even a measly paragraph can get the ideas started again. Or if I’m completely stymied, I’ll write something else. I’m always working on two books at once so I can alternate if needed. So what do some writers far more accomplished than I say about writer’s block?

Philip Pullman said, “Writer’s block… a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?”

I think the best piece of wisdom on this subject comes from Barbara Kingsolver who advises, “I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.”

So what about you? How do you push past a lack of inspiration in your work or home life?


Dana Mentink is a romance and suspense writer, living in California with a fire fighter husband, two girls — Yogi and Boo Boo — and a dog with social anxiety problems. Her most recent title, Flood Zone, releases this month with Harlequin’s LI Suspense. You can find out more about Dana by visiting her website: 

Dana Mentink

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  • Nick Kording says:

    I don’t believe in writer’s block because I don’t think that’s what’s really going on. It’s either distraction, unhappiness with the story or characters or maybe even insecurity about the same. I have a process my husband calls daydreaming that I see as more of being a fly on the wall…. so, when I feel stuck (i.e., distracted, unhappy or insecure in my story) I imagine myself seeing it from a different person or non-character (just there) than my character’s pov… it gives me another perspective and often a fresh start.

  • Laura Droege says:

    I have to disagree, to a certain extent. As someone who has bipolar II disorder, I’ve experienced horrible depression that has left me unable to think a single word, much less write it down. There’s this terrible blankness in my mind, as if the depression has destroyed language, and even when my psychiatrist (or friend, or husband) begs me to talk, to say what I am feeling, to label it with a word, I cannot physically do it. Likewise, when I’m having a mixed episode (think the worst of depression and mania put together), I’m so out of control that sitting down is the last thing I can do.

    I try very hard not to get to these extremes, and to muscle my way through them and write anyway, regardless of how I feel, but these episodes do happen. (Thanks to great medications, they don’t come as often now as they used to.) Is this “writer’s block” as most people define it? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s one thing to consider.

    Am I indulging myself when I stop trying to write while I’m at these extremes? I don’t think so. I’m certainly not going to berate myself for not producing work when my mental health is unsteady; that would be counterproductive for recovering stability.

    I do agree that discipline is necessary in writing, and that one shouldn’t wait around for the “muse” to show up. But if I’m at those extreme highs or lows, my focus needs to be somewhere other than my writing and producing work.

    • Dana Mentink says:

      Quite right, Laura. I think there are some life situations that just completely shut us down. I remember fighting pre/postpartum depression and not feeling like getting dressed, much less writing anything. At that time in my life, I would not have been in a place to meet multiple deadlines and such. Mental/physical health should always take a priority over work, if at all possible. 🙂

    • Laura Droege says:

      Whew, I’m glad you understood! I was afraid you might be offended by my comment or that my tone was too abrasive. I’m glad you’ve come out of the pre/postpartum depression. Happy writing!

    • Dana Mentink says:

      Not at all offended, Laura. This is a difficult world with so many tough challenges. I admire you for tackling yours! God bless! 🙂

  • rachelhauck says:

    I’ve always claimed there was no thing as writer’s block as well. Especially for those of us who have the indwelling Holy Spirit!

    But I hit a patch this winter where I’d have quit mid-story if I could have. A sudden physical issue knocked me for a loop and I found myself struggling. (which is resolved by the way, Yay God!)

    But I had to produce 5000 words a day to meet my deadline. One evening I sat on the living room floor trying to think of the possible goal for the scene I was writing and I physically couldn’t do type one more word.

    In a panic, I called my writing partner and she talked me through the parts of the story that needed work and I saw a glimmer of light at the end of the very dark tunnel.

    I prayed my way though that season and though I felt like crap, wasn’t sleeping, had NO confidence in my writing or the book, the Lord saw me through. I wrote 5000 a day for three weeks. (Long story as to how i got myself into this situation — typically not the way I roll!)

    So is there writer’s block? No. But there can be some incredible hurdles.

    I have to say I disagree with Phillip Pullman. A plumber doesn’t have to dig into his emotional well and find life and emotion for the imaginary characters running around in his head to fix a leaky faucet. He doesn’t have to spend hours in his own thoughts wondering how the plot will intertwine with the emotional journey while making sense to the world of readers who all come from different walks of life and experiences.

    Some days, plumbing would seem ideal to tearing out my heart and bleeding it on to the page! LOL.

    But I love what I do. Love this post Dana! You said it well! We do have to just be butt-in-chair whether we feel like it or not!!


    • Dana Mentink says:

      I think that’s a really excellent point about having a writing partner! I don’t think God intends us to be in this wacky writing business alone all the time. So glad you have overcome, Rachel!

  • Stacy Chambers says:

    Writer’s block does indeed exist and can be brought on by major life upheavals and/or a change in writing style.

    • Dana Mentink says:

      I write in two different genres and I find that helps if I have one of those dry spells. It’s good to be able to switch gears if I’m stymied in one. 🙂

  • Henry McLaughkin says:

    I agree, Dana. Whether writer’s block is a fear of failing or the dread the right words won’t come, it is an attitude writers can not afford to keep. Here are some quotes that inspire me when writers block peers over the top of my laptop.

    “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a
    club.” Jack London

    “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired
    at 9 o’clock every morning.”
William Faulkner

    “I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are
    going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit
    down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come
Roy Blount, Jr.

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