Dale Furutani

Writer’s Block


There is no such thing as “Writer’s Block.”

Plumbers don’t get Plumber’s Block. Car mechanics don’t get Mechanic’s Block. They can’t say they’re not inspired so a leaky pipe or malfunctioning car won’t get repaired until you get that inspiration back. And if you’ve ever worked for a magazine or newspaper that has strict deadlines, you’ll learn there is no Writer’s Block, either.

I helped put myself through school by writing articles on a variety of subjects. If I didn’t get an article done by deadline there could be a big white space in the publication. At the very least there would be no more assignments from that publication (I stopped counting articles at 300, which tells you that I needed the meager pay each article brought). Therefore, when I once had someone tell me they’ve been “blocked” for eight years I didn’t know what to make of it.

There have been times when what I wrote was lousy. There have been times when I couldn’t think of a fresh angle on a story. But there was never a time when I found it acceptable to have a blank page where my story should be.

When writing books, I know I have the luxury of re-writing prose that is garbage. The rewrite might also be garbage, but at least its second draft garbage. If you have the time, you can refine what you wrote until it is just weak, not garbage. Someone said writers either add-to or cut-from manuscripts when they edit. Either way you have a chance to make the bad section disappear or to shore up the section with additional prose that, hopefully, isn’t as bad.

Because of the power of revision, you should just plow ahead and write and not tell yourself you’re blocked. You can fix it later. The other problem I’ve encountered is a lack of new ideas. With articles I could recycle an approach I used in a previous article to provide a structure. I wasn’t going for a Pulitzer, so the article didn’t have to be startling and fresh. Writers recycle plots and approaches all the time and there’s no shame in you doing it too. If you can’t copy yourself than copy a plot from Shakespeare or some other classic (Picasso said bad artists borrow and good artist steal. T.S. Eliot said something similar when he wrote, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different."). Even if you stick with the classic’s structure until completion it can work out (witness Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood,” which is a Japanese McBeth, or “Ran,” which is King Lear). The lack of a fresh approach or a unique plot is not a barrier to writing a good novel so you should plow ahead.

That’s why I said there is no such thing as Writer’s Block. I think it was Max Beerbohm who said, “Writer’s write.” He didn’t say writers always write well or that everything they write will get published. But each time you do any writing you improve your craft (or should!), so it’s not wasted effort.

That’s an important thing to remember when you think you’re blocked.