Academia and writer's block


I thought of myself as a blocked writer for years; I am not a blocked writer.

I saw this advice from Ray Bradbury:

What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it? Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, aren’t you? . . . You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for. . . If you have writers’ block you can cure it this evening by stopping what you’re doing and writing something else. You picked the wrong subject. -from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

Academic writing, writing for others, writing what I thought I needed to write — all of that was so damaging. It was worse than writing for money. I couldn't love what I was writing because academic writing had become a chore and a job that was beholden to someone else's whims, to someone else's wants, and to everyone else's not giving a shit.

Being blocked as an academic writer is not the same thing as being blocked as a writer.

I wondered why it was that I could teach, with joy and creativity, or why I could give talks and parry criticisms with style. There was still love there, in those modes. Sure, we can also label perfectionism or claim something like that. But my insides knew. They knew something was wrong and something needed to change. My brain couldn't compute it.

I wrote without difficulty before grad school. And then I felt the slowing, the impediments, the things that squeezed me down to a trickle of myself, a drip here, a bit of moisture there.

I produced intellectual condensation. I squeezed a painful drip or two from a pained prostate. Choose any disturbed metaphor. That's what academic writing is.

I'm not a blocked writer. Why did it take so long to hear that?