It was always a puzzle to me how many times kids have asked me that question. It was a puzzle because, as I understood writer’s block, it is a serious, clinically-defined mental condition, which prevents a writer from writing. It is, in fact, a form of depression.
First, I was puzzled that kids even knew of such a thing. Secondly, the question implied that this was something common to all writers. It is true; some famous writers (Hemingway, William Styron, and Virginia Woolf, among others) have suffered from this malady, but these are not writers kids tend to know. I dare say there must have been (and still are) writers for young people who suffer from writers block, but I do not know their names. Nor do kids.
Then I realized that what the kids were actually talking about was the commonplace pauses when writing to ask, “What comes next?” “Where do I go from here?“ “What should this character do?” and so forth.
When I am asked the question about writers block, I give three responses: that writers block, strictly speaking, is when a writer cannot write, that I have not suffered from that kind of illness, but that in the course of a writing day I pause to think about what should come next hundreds of times each day. That pausing—i.e., thinking—is what happens when you write.
When teaching writing, I think it is crucial to allow time to pause—a moment, an hour, a day, or longer. Otherwise, people think writing just flows effortlessly and that, if it does not, the person is not a good writer. Wrong.
No one writes anything effortlessly from start to finish. The kind of block kids are asking about are, in fact, writers’ building blocks.