Creative inability: writer’s block or mental block?

i think we’ve all experienced the phenomenon that most people call writer’s block. Some people call it a mental block. some people claim that it isn’t real, but i assure you that it is. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but this is what it is to me.

Writer’s block is that feeling i get when i can put my pencil on the page, or my hands on the keyboard, and the words that come out just don’t feel right. then i hit delete, or backspace, or i flip the pencil around and erase, leaving gray smudges behind. Even worse, sometimes i can’t think of words to put down on the page at all. when either of those happen, i just stare at the paper, or at my Word document. No tears well up in my eyes or anything, but there is just this empty feeling. It always takes me a few minutes to identify it, but it is the common factor for every creative block i’ve ever run into.

Personally, i hit blocks while doing activities other than writing. Take, for example, athletics. For both pole vault and diving, i have hit mental blocks where i was working on the same skill, over and over and over again, often for more than one full practice. And the skill continued to not work out correctly. it took me three straight years to land a dive correctly once. The empty feeling was there, too. It felt like i was just going through the motions. I would work through my warm up, and i would do my approach, and then when i threw myself into the skill, it fell flat. every time. Eventually, it reached the point where i knew that that was what was going to happen, and i dreaded it in the pit of my stomach on the way to practice.

But somehow i kept trying.

And eventually i got past it.

That was a mental block. Muscle memory only. Everyone was frustrated with me, saying, “why can’t you do this? you know what you have to do, just do it.”

What they didn’t realize was that it is not just a mental inability to accomplish the task. It was a physical inability trained into my muscles because i didn’t believe that i could do it.

Writer’s block is the same way. I sit down with my ideas rattling around in my head, but when i put my pencil to the paper, the ideas don’t flow. the reason for that is that somewhere deep inside me, i don’t believe that i can write what i need to at that time.

So what is the difference between a mental block and a writer’s block?

there’s no guarantee that i will be able learn how to get past it. But i have to believe that i can, because a mental block about getting over a mental block requires being far to introspective for me.


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