Every Friday, I write a quick little essay in the space before pimping what I wrote over the past week. This week, I had nothing. I’ve been looking at this blank page for a few hours.
So let’s talk about writer’s block.
There are people that claim writer’s block is crippling disease and those that believe it is not only a crutch, but a phantom one at that. But, in reading (and talking to) people on both sides of this argument, I’ve noticed something: the people that believe it is real are, by and large, writers who mainly deal in fiction, while those that say it doesn’t exist generally write nonfiction.
And that makes sense.
Because while it may seem easier – just make some shit up! – writing fiction is far, far, far harder than nonfiction. I know this from experience, but it also just makes logical sense. With nonfiction, you may struggle with how to craft your words or what salient points you want to make or how you want the beginning of your essay to match the end, but the hard work is done for you. Whatever you’re writing about – war, politics, sports, Batman, work, life, marriage, money, kids – is already in existence and you’re just reacting to, and expounding upon, that. I’m not saying it’s easy or that anyone can do it – it’s not and most people can’t – or that a nonfiction writer has never encountered writer’s block, but it’s not as tough as fiction.
Take this little screed. I had nothing to write, so I’m writing about having nothing to write. If I tried to do that with fiction, I’d have to give you description and backstory. It’d be like: The cursor wouldn’t stop. Relentlessly, it kept blinking at him. Like a lighthouse teasing him as he drifted in the ocean of nothingness, the storm of desperation crashing over him, reminding him of how minor his life was.
That’s awful, but you get the point.
Think of your favorite novels. What do they all have in common? They almost certainly created an entire world that was so believable, so inhabitable, that you completely lost yourself within it. Have you ever looked up from a book and had to take a second to adjust to the real world around you instead of the world within the book? That’s hard. What J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien were able to do with Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings is nothing short of remarkable. They created entire universes with their own rules and maps and languages, to the point that one minor bit of inconsistency would drive readers insane.
There are elements of nonfiction that are more difficult. The research, the cross-referencing, the sourcing and footnoting, the need to be precise and accurate. Those aren’t problems that afflict the fiction writer.
But creating something out of thin air? That’s magical.
Here’s what I wrote this week:
“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”
– Charles Bukowski
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.