Does writer’s block exist? In 1950, according to a recent New Yorker website post, a psychoanalyst who had studied the issue published a paper under that very title. He concluded that it does. But there’s a potential difficulty with disorders of the mind, which the Western world’s materialist science has more or less left behind in cases of somatic (that is, bodily) disorders: we can’t literally see what’s wrong, because we have no direct access to the area in question. Besides, some disorders seem to be culturally conditioned and/or psychologically conditioned. Among other things, this means that—odd as it sounds—the illnesses we can come down with may depend on where and when we’re living, or on beliefs we hold about ourselves.
An example that’s likely to be contentious is that, according to one report, the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder differs between the United States and Great Britain; the variance is also discussed here. It’s hard to imagine that your likelihood of contracting malaria in an infested region of the world would depend on what country you’re from (other things being equal), but it appears that your likelihood of suffering PTSD may depend on just that. What’s more, it appears that psychological difficulties can arise whether or not one has experienced combat, to judge from a report by Sebastian Junger in the June 2015 Vanity Fair. A simpler example of a condition with a questionable cause, though far less common, is false pregnancy: appearing to be pregnant without physically being so, which sometimes has a psychological basis.
My point is only that we might reasonably question the notion of writer’s block. The science of the mind will have some explaining to do when it becomes capable of reckoning with this seemingly exclusive disorder; I don’t recall having heard of a block in any other field. Has anyone ever claimed to have actor’s block, artist’s block, programmer’s block, theoretical physicist’s block? Can all, or only some, varieties of creative work be blocked? Does this bedeviling phenomenon affect only the human faculty for language? Can we imagine chef’s block, for those called upon to devise new dishes, but not fry-cook’s block? Architect’s block but not steelworker’s block? A block that can beset lawyers, whose work involves creativity and also language, but not a block afflicting accountants, who may be creative but who usually work with numbers? If what’s at stake is finding a way to begin a project, or finding a way to proceed once something is underway, then this ought to be a dilemma faced by many. Have writers done us a disservice by speaking only of their obstacle and no one else’s? Subject for meditation: how might a choreographer “speak” through movement about feeling unable to move?
Though Christian Scientists might claim otherwise, I doubt you’ll accomplish much by doubting the existence of the bullet flying in your direction, or the plasmodium-infected mosquito that has settled on your arm. Nonetheless, in some respects the mind constructs the world, and it’s possible that you will gain something by doubting the existence of writer’s block. On the other hand, if you believe in it because you find yourself unable to write—or, for that matter, if your painting is at a standstill, or your legal brief isn’t coming along—you might want to consult the New Yorker web article I mentioned. It was written by Maria Konnikova, and it touches on ways of viewing the problem and ways of surmounting it. You can find it here.