The Western public largely accepts that writer’s block exists, that it exists for many people, and that it has existed and will continue existing for a very long time. Unfortunately, the reductive attitude Concord Academy holds toward writer’s block—fueled by mass productivity and the assumption that “if one just asks a student to keep writing, the student’s Writer’s Block will surely go away”—has instead generated stress, time sensitivity, and, in some cases, an actual distaste for writing.
CA’s academics emphasize writing—specifically, highly productive, well-organized, purposeful writing. The school has arrived at a point where students are expected to churn out writing piece after writing piece. Science teachers assign lab reports; English teachers assign creative writing assignments or textual analyses; History teachers ask for short answers, if not essays, and even in Math, Engineering, and the Arts, reflective papers are far from rare.
The practice can be helpful. “I feel like getting different opinions and continuing to practice makes me a stronger writer,” said Christopher Ramanathan ’23.
Nevertheless, writer’s block is bound to happen often due to this massive amount of productive writing. And, because CA students are expected to churn out this writing regularly, writer’s block becomes a significant problem when it piles up. Time is work, and lost time is lost work that one could have spent writing. “If you’re hit with writer’s block, or you aren’t writing your best, you have to [carry] your way through it because you can’t waste time,” remarked Emma Somol ’23.
Writer’s block has been depicted in creative history for centuries and not always poorly. “I am profoundly slothful,” Fran Leibowitz is often quoted to have said.
Those were the 1990s. Similarly, Leonid Pasternak’s late-nineteenth-century painting, The Passion for Creation, depicts a writer struggling to compose. The subject, however, appears overwhelmingly calm. No CA course has questioned the cost of constant, goal-based writing. Is more writing necessarily good writing?
CA’s expectation of productivity has generated an academic culture where the occasional bout of “let your writing flow” is offset by the sheer amount of outlined work students are expected to produce on a regular basis. At times, students are told outright that they will turn their freewriting into essay writing, which itself changes what some would say was the original point of freewriting—to spill out whatever words happen to be in a student’s head without judgment—by turning around and asking the student to judge those exact words afterward and not on their own time. Not all writing must be connected. By overturning that expectation, a student could forfeit the time to let loose thanks to the standard that whatever is let loose must be processed later.
The need to eliminate writer’s block as soon as it arises rests on the assumption that working towards a better product beats out seeing if the product will come back to them. “Don’t wait until creativity strikes you,” many advice columns read. “Just start writing,” “just keep writing,” and “you’ll pick up the pace eventually.” Those columns omit that, sometimes, no time is given to “just write.” Often, “just writing” was never on the table.
Write less. And when you do, really just write. One free paragraph is worth three contrived essays.