I just listened to a podcast where Brian Koppelman interviewed Seth Godin, and while it was clear that they were friends and had a huge mutual respect for each other, they absolutely did not agree on this topic. I love listening to two smart people disagreeing on something, with each side arguing their case – it’s a wonderful thing that creates this rich environment for considering other possibilities beyond what you (think you) already know.
I’m not quite sure which side of the fence I fall on, but (and I’m paraphrasing) here was Seth’s position:
“There is no such thing as writers block – there is only not writing…”
Now, we all know how to write our thoughts down in words; the reason we become “stuck” is that it is a better story to tell ourselves that we have writers block rather than write something that might not be good. But that is not how it works – it is only the act of actually doing something that allows one to become good (and hopefully great) at it. We don’t have to look far to see evidence of this – most great artists were prolific and not everything they did was great. They just kept doing it…
Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Andy Warhol, Woody Allen, George Carlin, Steven King, Isaac Asimov, and Prince come immediately to mind. They each created an enormous body of work, some of which was undeniably transcendent. But not all of their work, even to their fans, was that great. Usually interesting, but sometimes you can just feel that they were reaching for something and not always finding it. But they just kept showing up and doing the work. Day in and day out. Making stuff.
So Seth’s point was that it’s easier and more comfortable for us to say we’re working on something, because as long as we are just working on it, there is no chance of failure. And if we have writers block, all the better. Now we can say (to ourselves) that we are capable of transcendent work, if only we didn’t have this writers block…
It usually takes a long time to become really good at something, and it is really hard to make things. Failure is a painful part of the process. But the only chance we have of really expressing whatever it is we are trying to say in an artful way is to do it. A lot. And not be afraid to fail.