Writer’s Block, Freezing Up, and Meeting Resistance in Writing

Teaching resistant writers

A moment of silence before we meditate on the words of Peter (my mentor) Elbow. Ohm.

“To write is to overcome a certain resistance: you are trying to wrestle a steer to the ground, to wrestle a snake into a bottle, to overcome a demon that sits in your head. To succeed in writing or making sense is to overpower that steer, that snake, that demon… Somehow the force that is fighting you is also the force that gives life to your words. You must overpower that steer or snake or demon. But not kill it” (Writing with Power 18).

Resistance in writing happens to all of us. I remember last spring in my grad school class, I had to write my first twenty page research paper in as many years. I froze completely. I broke down in tears on the phone with my professor. At the same time, I was teaching the essay online to high school students. I felt like a fraud.

Yet, the very advice I gave to my students became essential for me to follow myself. Even as a seasoned writer, intimidation and overwhelm combined to make me freeze up miserably.

So I began writing. I wrote really badly and my writing included all kinds of comments about how hard it was to write. I typed ten pages straight. I felt a bit like you do after you throw up. Better, and exhausted, but not exactly satisfied either.

I slept on those pages and when I returned to my draft, I discovered that there wasn’t a single paragraph worth keeping. Not one.

But having written ten bad pages left me some mental space. I knew I could write ten more bad pages and again, if I had too. Eventually, I’d get to the good stuff underneath all the anxiety. And that’s just what I did.

The biggest advantage I have over your kids is that I’ve written so much. I have confidence that the words will come eventually if I just keep getting the wrong words out of the way.

Image by Doug Geisler

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