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The Iceberg: How To Rationalize Writer's Block

(Image courtesy of Media from Wix.)

Every writer has the same enemy. Who could intimidate Leo Tolstoy? Who could bamboozle Maya Angelou? Everyone knows this adversary well. While it changed forms with technological innovation, its modern incarnation is the blank screen. Its blinking cursor mocks, wide vastness scares, and the screen’s static movement cause the brain to short circuit. The blank screen reminds the all-mighty writer that we are human.

(Image courtesy of Media from Wix.)

In 1915, Sigmund Freud compared the mind to an iceberg. The iceberg's visible part represents the conscious mind, while the submerged underbelly denotes one’s subconscious. I understand Freud’s theory to mean how pure logic could not deduce a person’s behavior.

(Image courtesy of Media from Wix.)

A person’s environment, rearing, and education could influence a person’s thought process. In the 108 years since the theory was first published, Instagram breathed new life into this theory. People post on their Instagram stories how people could only see the results (tip of the iceberg) rather than the time and energy invested to accomplish the task.

(Image credit: Slyvia Duckworth. The image was found on

When you write often, friends and family slowly start to believe that your thoughtful insights denote extra levels of conscience awareness. If you could string your thoughts, you must spend many hours contemplating philosophy, art, and ethics. I can promise you that is not the case at all. I define writing as the ability to transmute your thoughts from your mind into the physical world. Writing is how your iceberg’s underbelly sees the light of day.

(Image courtesy of Mondadori via Getty. The image depicts writer Tennesse Williams at his Roman holiday home in 1955.)

Icebergs can only thrive in frosty conditions. Your iceberg can remain afloat when the outside world is not breathing down your neck. When everything in your life is “balanced,” writing is easy. Writers simply import their experiences onto their computers. The blank screen quickly disappears. The writer feels empowered as the words flood their mind. The writer has merely to channel the words onto the paper.

(Image courtesy of me.)

The real challenge to the writer is when your world begins to burn. When your iceberg begins to shrink, the terms become lost in the sea of thoughts. The writer must shift their focus onto other concerns. Your iceberg becomes a distant memory as you deal with various crises. But, when the problem is resolved (in life, the problem you worry about somehow resolves itself), you can return to the iceberg. You are excited to return tundra of thought. Instead, you see your once substantial iceberg appear meek.

(Image courtesy of me.)

When you have a smaller iceberg, the blank screen becomes more apparent. How can you write when you don’t know where to start? Why should you write when your words are repetitive? Who cares about your opinion? The blank screen’s emissaries of evil (the blinking cursor and the silent keyboard) quietly confirm your self-doubt. You, dear writer, have lost your spark. The time you spent writing no longers constitutes anything significant. You are done. You are a has-been.

Before writing this, every time I looked at the computer, I felt dread. I lost the ability to transmute. I no longer had anything meaningful to say. I need to shift my focus to more pressing matters.

But today, I decided to confront my adversary. I wanted to look at the blank screen and write something meaningful. I hope I did. When your mental resources are spread too thin, I want you to know that your iceberg did not melt. If your iceberg shrinks, simply let your thoughts congeal. When you journey back, you will find your imposing iceberg ready to take on the world.

(Image courtesy of Media from Wix.)


Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

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