Writer's Block vs. Writer's Iceberg

“It’s just writer’s block.”

Everyone from fiction writers to nonprofit grant managers to students facing a paper due in two months or two days have said this to me.  I’m no therapist.  Still, experience has taught me when this statement is false, or at least somewhere north or south of true.  The trick, that rainbow-ending pot of gold, is having a client understand when writer’s block is the culprit or if there is something deeper and more formidable at play.

Countless sites, sources and manuals define and demystify writer’s block.  I won’t add to that catalog except to echo that it’s quite real and very paralyzing.  Yet writer’s block - typically manifested by the inability to begin writing or continue a written assignment or project- is common. It is also relatively easy to overcome. 

Hold on.

Hear me out, or rather, read me out on this.

Writer’s block is typically cracked and then shattered by any number of tips and tricks detailed by the same sources that define it.  Not all suggested methods work for everyone, but quite a few can suit almost anybody and you really only need one to set you in the right direction.  As long as a person, let’s say you for example, accepts that the first spurts of writing through the block tend to be awful, success comes into view.  I can’t understate just how…bad (yep, that’s the word) that first unfrozen writing may be.  Yet, as is often true for a slight cramp in a runner’s leg, warming up that incorporates active stretching followed by walking and light jogging often leads to a cramp-free, full-on run or sprint.  It just had to be worked out through muscle memory and determination (throw in good research for non fiction). 

Timing can be a beast though.  Some clients dismantle and dissolve their block after a couple of paragraphs and others must write a full, horrid draft before the block is dismantled enough for them to accomplish a stunning revision.  The point remains that writer’s block can be circumvented or demolished by developing a tailored-to-you writing process (which most people never bother to develop) or overcome with a set of specified strategies. Okay, so not super easy, but relatively easy.  Compared to what, you ask.

What of authors who have not written for months or years?  What’s the deal with students who face a blank screen or page and experience outright agony with every writing assignment in high school or college?  And lest we forget about those who transition from one phase of life being “fine” with writing only to then find that they can not produce words worthy of their current assignments or obligations.  All that right there is not writer’s block; those are experiences better classified as writer’s iceberg.

You get the general point I’m sure.  The visible, above-the-surface portion of an iceberg, massive as it may be, is only the “tip”.  It’s part of a much larger formation that lies beneath the surface.  When you finally understand the depth, breadth and power of it, how the hell do you conquer or destroy it? For more environmentally conscious folks, how do you dissolve it into harmony with the nature of your life?  Either way, the shift is seismic and freeing.

To address and then conquer writer’s iceberg (I will NOT give it more power by capitalizing it), most tricks, hacks, tips and standard strategies won’t work.  Because of course, the “freeze” is not about the writing at all or even words themselves.  It’s always about something else and more times than not, several something elses.  That tends to be true of writer’s block as well, but when a person devolves from hesitation or writing paralysis in the face of an assignment or project and becomes entombed in being unable to produce words that prove useful (at all or without assistance and hand holding), she’s in iceberg territory.

This is when I’m supposed to “sell” you on how A Draft Supreme’s services can determine if someone has writer’s block or writer’s iceberg (completely separate from standard editing or true revision) and provide outlined hints as to how I guide clients through melting the visible portion of the iceberg and then onto dismantling what lurks beneath the surface.  Yes we “do that” (within reason - again, not a therapist), but I’ve found that clients know when it’s time to secure outside help.  This may not be your time.

Just know this, especially if you sit at the nexus of frustration and your words remain frozen within your mind: It can be done.   And yes, you can limp along in pain and still turn in work as your iceberg grows and solidifies.  I’ve had students ask for an extension or two only to finally submit pages of tortured, subpar writing.  What bothers me is that they believe they’re simply horrible writers or that it must “always be this way”.  What’s worse, in youth (okay, adulthood too) icebergs can be misinterpreted as standard issue laziness.  This only strengthens/feeds the iceberg.  It only makes the destructive myth all too devastating and real.

It’s not an exact science, but getting at that iceberg – after acknowledging it exists of course - requires an individualized balance triangulated between:

  1. Context of the writing in general (within one’s larger life at that moment)
  2. Details of the assignment itself (which can trigger a shut down depending on the topic, required research or expectations)
  3. Timeframe

And no, the order of priority or importance is not set in stone, even though a person’s inability to write may very well be.

As with most problems in life, the earlier you address it in terms of age, education or timeline of a project, the better.  If you ever manage to dismantle what you now know to be an iceberg, when you are farther down life’s winding road and find yourself staring at a blank page, you’ll be happy to find truth in that timeless statement:

“It’s just writer’s block.”