Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

On writer's block

How shall I quell my constipated mind,

When all thoughts are irregular at best?

To write a worthy poem of any kind,

And hence finish my literary quest.

Just when I find a theme to write about,

Youthful love captured by vibrant flowers,

My wand’ring mind decides a different route,

Merely to waste away the dwindling hours.

Perhaps a clever pairing of some rhyme

Would make of me a regular Shakespeare.

Yet when I read his poetry sublime,

The quality of mine brings me to tears.

Alas I fear my peers shall jeer and mock,

Unless I overcome this writer’s block.


The poem above was my submission to an assignment for one of my courses. The class was allowed to write about anything; unfortunately (or fortunately), I couldn’t think of anything to write about. So I wrote about that. We are all familiar with writer’s block. It is as if you have too many thoughts and yet, not a single one seems cohesive enough to put on paper. Staring at a blank screen and struggling to miraculously generate an essay, poem, journal entry, is the bane of many a student’s existence. How authors like Stephen King manage to crank out book after book, with little time in between, is definitely an awe-inducing feat. What is his secret? In an interview, “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin asks King “How, the [expletive] do you manage to write so many books so fast? I think, ‘Oh, I've had a really good six months, I've finished three chapters.’ And you've finished three books in that time … ” Stephen King has a simple response: no matter what happens, regardless of whatever distraction pops up or how he is feeling, he forces himself to “get six pages a day.”

My immediate reaction was to dismiss this response as both lackluster and useless to the average person such as myself (people who simply do not have King’s literary talent). Yet, it is noteworthy that the person asking the question is not only another author (George R. R. Martin), but an incredibly successful one. The implication being that creative production depends not only on innate ability, but also on the cultivation of habit. This may seem utterly obvious. We all know the importance of habit and discipline in achieving success in any worthy endeavor, whether it be playing a sport or studying for an exam. However, when it comes to projects that necessitate creativity, inspiration suddenly plays a much more salient role. Hence the temptation to keep waiting for that “Eureka!” moment as opposed to simply getting started.

Of course, the inclination to put off writing until you feel like writing is a terrible way of going about the creative process. George R.R. Martin is a gifted writer. Yet it takes him a dishearteningly long time to write anything. (We’re still waiting for “Winds of Winter.) As the interview suggests, Martin waits for inspiration to ignite his spirit and propel his writing. This, however, is a precarious means of generating work, as nothing is so liable to change as our emotional state. Conversely, King is illustrating that, in order to create, you must force yourself to create. Inspiration has little to do with it; he must write six pages, and so he will write six pages. Next time you’re working on a paper and simply cannot think of a way to express your thoughts, simply begin writing your ideas down, however rudimentary. It will be difficult, but the alternative (not getting it done on time) is much worst. We cannot expect the muses to descend from the heavens and compel us to create. Rather than wait for inspiration to come to you, you must find it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.