I just appeared at the Romance Writers of America - New England Chapter conference as the dinner speaker on Friday; I decided to rework some material (after all, it's been a year since Motivate Your Writing! came out, and I've learned some new stuff) and talk about Writer's Block. I wrote about it in various places, but I was resorting it and came up with a single way to talk about it.
I've concluded that, as my wife Toni put it, it isn't a disease, it's a symptom. When you name it, you give it power -- it's a thing, outside you, that sits on you and stops you writing.
It occurred to me that in fact it is described in much the same language that people describe the muse -- something that grants you the ability to write, that you have nothing to do with. Thus, writer's block is the Anti-Muse.
I'd rather think of writer's block as a combination of person and situation. There are times where you get overaroused or overanxious by the situation, due to some interaction between it and you, and you choke on your own emotion -- the high end of the Yerkes-Dodson Law, for those who have followed my comments in this blog.
In other cases, your writing energy may be drained out of you by something that appeals to your nonconscious motive that drives your writing, and is easier or more immediate to do -- e.g., speaking at a conference instead fo writing!
Or a situation doesn't manage to energize you enough to want to write, e.g., a book idea that is popular -- but not with you.
To me writer's block is that point where you fall off the bell curve of arousal and productivity, so far that you cannot write for a time. The sneaky part is that you can fall either direction -- low energy or overenergized -- with the same outcome: not writing. In the case of overarousal, it can become a vicious cycle: the longer you go without writing, the more stressful it gets and the higher the expectations you put on yourself.
But there is good news about that kind of writer's block: when you are frustrated, or angry, because you cannot write, that is because you have a passion for writing, that you have invested your personal emotion into your writing. The trick is to harness it rather than letting it get in the way.