Excuses for writer’s block: reason is the servant of emotions

Orange freesias in a tall blue glass vase on a modern table.

I like to think of my mind as beautiful, clear and balanced. But wait, that vase is leaning left….

Hunting for reasons for getting stuck when writing a particular book, I produced two justifications that are thinly disguised ways of saying, “I don’t want to write this book.”

Justifications? Indeed. They are circular regurgitations, not reasons. I was just generating rationalisations for my refusal to get down to business.

Now, I’m not beating myself up over this. At present I’m reading The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. He puts a convincing case that moral judgements and political leanings and everyday decisions start like this:

  1. First we decide in a split second which way to jump, yes or no. Gut feelings, emotions (and I suppose early experiences and training) determine our choice.
  2. Then we exercise our brain to find reasons (sometimes ludicrously improbable reasons) to justify our opinions.
  3. We are unlikely to change our minds by attending to logic and science. It does happen, but special conditions are required.

Since reading the first part of The Righteous Mind, every day I notice people (including me) doing this. An hour ago, for instance, my grandson and I had a discussion over how much a one-way trip in the Wellington Cable Car costs. He said $5, I said $2.50. One of those conversations that can only be settled by Google or a trip in the Cable Car. I find these conversations extremely funny now that I know what’s going on.

So now I look at the following two “reasons” for my recent writer’s block and know they are not reasons, but excuses. They do not deserve to be taken seriously.

  • Ignorance. I have no expertise in ageing, exercise, health, happiness, meditation, housing, finance or psychology: who am I to write such a book? (Are investigative journalists experts in every topic they write about?  Of course not. Get over it!)
  • Redundancy. The world has too many books about positive ageing, successful ageing etc. (Really?)

In my case, stalling for a couple of years was a good thing. I wasn’t ready.

You might find it amusing to look at your own “reasons” for not undertaking a certain personal project (like writing a book), even though you say you want to. Maybe you just don’t want to. Not really. Not enough. Or maybe your procrastination is due to another strong feeling—for example fear, fear of failure or fear of success. I’m pretty sure that’s often true of me. And does it matter?

P.S. The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio primed me to accept Haidt’s advocacy for emotion’s dominant role in decision-making. If you like this sort of thing, these two books are both mind-expanding and fun.


6 thoughts on “Excuses for writer’s block: reason is the servant of emotions

  1. Cathy Cade says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the tendency to find arguments to support our preferences.
    But regarding that first point…
    “First we decide in a split second which way to jump, yes or no. Gut feelings, emotions (and I suppose early experiences and training) determine our choice.”
    How about those of us (eg. me) who are indecisive to begin with?

  2. I Like to think that my split second knowings are based on a wealth of accumulated knowledge, experience and pattern recognition that my brain draws on faster and more accurately than I can logically think. That’s my rationale. And if I read the The Righteous Mind, I might find I’m wrong!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:


  3. Claudette says:

    Omg this speaks to me:
    -The world has too many memoirs, nobody cares about another one, especially mine.
    -Hearing loss is a boring topic and affects too few people, why would anyone care about another book about that topic…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I hope you can work through this, Claudette.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Sadly too many people here think that their gut is the best determiner of the truth of things. I like the combination of gut and thought. Haven’t’ read the Haidt book though I read “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Yours sounds good too.

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