Why you must read this navel-gazing GIF-heavy listicle about writer’s block


1. Articles about the writing process tend to be tremendously dull

So why do they occur?

2. Because occasionally writer’s run out of things to say

Wait, aren’t the questions here supposed to be in the subheadings, not the other way around?

3. I realised that right at the start. How do I get out of such a loop?

Ah, there you go. Nicely. Now this is exactly like one of those Guardian articles where the writer poses questions to themselves simply in other to advance a narrative you can spot from a mile off.

4. Seems like a pretty lazy device, doesn’t it?

Well, not necessarily. Any device can be used lazily. After all, I guess somebody writing about writer’s block so they don’t have writer’s block can be pretty lazy.

5. You seem to be doing a good job of illustrating that!

I know. (Though no need for that exclamation mark, please.) I had a thought that it would be better just to start writing, and hope that my brain would figure something out by the end to make it feel worth sticking with.

6. You didn’t really think that, did you?

No. You know I didn’t.

7. You already had your trick when you wrote that headline, I bet

Well, yes.

8. I know: after you’d ‘forgotten’ to post the GIFs that would have livened up this piece of tripe, you would have posted loads of GIFS right at the end


9. Nobody would have spotted that coming. Hilarious!

It felt quite good. The effect when written down is entirely disappointing.

10. How much higher can this listicle go, then?

I’m not too sure. I think the format in this particular instance has been exhausted. However, BuzzFeed seem to be able to cram upwards of 20 or 30 things into one article nowadays. I wonder if it’s a gradual desperation – given that they must have mined pretty much everything – or whether they’re just becoming more and more effective.

Perhaps in a decade they’ll be publishing 5483 Personal Details About John Major That’ll Make You LOL, the word length exceeding that of a David Foster Wallace novel. (And it’ll be just as precise in its devilry.)

Anyway, I like to think that by this stage of the article I’ll have alienated so much of the passing audience that I can be entirely honest: recently when I’ve thought of writing, there is an increased dread that I have nothing of any consequence to contribute.

For instance, recently I moved abroad for the first time. Rich pickings some might say. (Don’t ask me who that “some” refers to, please.) But what can be said about the experience of a British person living abroad that hasn’t been said before? Even when I crack easy jokes to my friends – usually about a distinct lack of Irn Bru or Strongbow – I can feel a small piece of my soul gratefully withering away. Imagine an entire article of that nonsense.

To counteract writer’s block like this, I’ll start browsing media websites. When I see anything that vaguely constitutes “news” I realise there must be at least thousands of people who are more qualified to comment upon it than I am. When I see most things that vaguely constitutes “comment” I realise that there must be at least thousands of people less qualified to comment upon any certain subject than I am, and yet they have done so.

(That last part isn’t true of course, but it felt pretty satisfying to write.)

As it is, I’ll run out of steam, feeling more depressed since I didn’t even properly read or watch the content I came across, and had no intention of doing so. At most I probably spent no more than a few seconds on each, flinging out a few ideas for “hot takes” that would put Alan Partridge’s Monkey Tennis to shame.

Then a moment like this arrives: I remember with fond nostalgia times when the words flowed freely, when my journalistic qualification and years of writing professionally hadn’t whittled down my abilities to the replication and passable mastery of generic article templates that audience find acceptable, but which also pretty much guarantee that they won’t remember any of the substantive content more than a second or two after they’ve clicked somewhere else.

It’s a bit like a guitarist who fancied themselves as a really creative improvisational rock soloist, and who then started playing in a wedding band to get a bit closer to doing what they loved, and who one day – let’s say ten years down the line – found out that they were unable to come up with anything that wasn’t directly plagiarised from the middle section of Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Indeed, Susan Sarandon mentions the same sort of thing in her recent interview with Marc Maron, talking about how years of being on a soap opera can leaden actors with bad habits that they find hard to shake off.

11. Well, that unexpected… and entirely depressing

Hey! Nothing that includes Crazy Little Thing Called Love can ever be “entirely depressing”. It just makes me hope that sometime soon I can circumvent the usual sorts of content structures that I’ve relied upon because they felt familiar and warm, and/or I find some things to address where it might feel like my voice matters again.

12. But what if it doesn’t?

Well, it won’t be the worst thing in the world. There are plenty of great writers out there.

Plus we’ll always have the GIFs.

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(Main image by Drew Coffman)