I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think of it more accurately as writers’ fear, with an affect similar to any other phobia.
I have acrophobia, the fear of heights. I first realized this when I was perhaps in fourth grade. My family spent some time up in the mountains during the summer, and one of our activities was to hike to a nearby manned fire tower.
At the time forest rangers lived on site during the months of highest fire danger. To encourage fire safety they gave out Junior Fire Ranger member cards to kids making the trek to a fire tower.
Hiking to the tower was the easy part for me. The hard part was climbing the steps to the enclosed platform at the top. We were already at the summit of the mountain, but the steps took us higher.
I knew better than to look down, but in between the steps I could see … sky! Now that was truly frightening. So much so that I was immobilized. I couldn’t make myself keep going.
That’s the sensation of writer’s block. Immobilization. But what’s to fear?
I suppose in part it’s a fear of failure, but it might also be a kind of performance anxiety. I’m reminded of a Charlie Brown monologue some of my English students performed during our speech unit.
Supposedly at school, on the playground during lunch, Charlie Brown is detailing why lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for him. Eventually he muses about the Little Redhead Girl he’s got a crush on. At one point he wonders why she never looks at him. He thinks he should go over to her and sit and ask her to have lunch with him. He stands up, realizes he’s standing up, then sits down. He declares he’s a coward.
Still he doesn’t know why she doesn’t look at him. He says he never remembers a time when she looked at him. He gets worked up, even a little indignant, and says
Is she so great and I’m so small, that she can’t spare one single moment just to … She’s looking at me. She’s looking at me! SHE’S LOOKING AT ME!
With that, he pops his lunch bag over his head, then says,
Lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for me. If that Little Redhead Girl is looking at me with this stupid bag over my head she must think I’m the biggest dork alive.
Poor Charlie Brown. He wanted to have courage. He wanted the Little Redhead Girl to like him or talk to him or at least look at him—until she did. Then he froze. And worse, he did something stupid.
I think writers, because we operate in a public arena, are afraid we might write something stupid and we’re wondering if readers are out there pointing and laughing while we sit with our lunch bags over our heads, hoping to go unnoticed by the very people we want to talk to.
No one ever said writers are rational!