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When Writer’s Block Is About Your Fear of Humiliation

Alexander Chee writes about the ‘destructive fantasies’ we engage in when we’re stuck

Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

We often talk about writer’s block as if it’s some event that descends from the sky, with no origin or purpose. But as novelist and essayist Alexander Chee writes on Medium, often there’s a very real origin indeed: If you stop writing, the work you are trying to write can never humiliate you.

When you stop writing in order to protect yourself… you are imagining that at least you won’t embarrass yourself. You imagine that stopping writing protects you, and you feel a little relief from the danger of whatever your idea is suggesting.

The only problem? Soon enough, you’ll start to feel humiliated that you never managed to write the damn thing. “This,” he writes, “as I have learned, is when it is time to forgive yourself and then to get back to writing.”

If you’re currently stuck on your creative project—and as someone who’s been working on a novel for four years, I get it—ask yourself why you might be humiliated by your own idea. As Chee writes about his struggle to finish The Queen of the Night, “I needed a bigger idea of myself that included the writing of that novel.” What bigger idea of yourself do you need?

Read the full essay and more advice from Chee here:

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Sarah Begley

Sarah Begley

Director at Medium working with authors and books. Formerly a staff writer and editor at Time.