Developing Expertise: Analysis of an Image of Writer’s Block


A Corona-Coronet electric typewriter sits on a varnished wooden desk. Fresh paper is in the carriage, ready to put down whatever words the unseen author has for it. To the right, mostly out of the frame, is more paper; on the other side of the typewriter is a crumpled sheet. The paper and possibly the typewriter provide a mild contrast from the darker hues in the image. The backdrop is a deep asparagus-colored wall that’s faded and chipped away in certain parts. While it’s not the central focus of the image, an amorphous blob of what could be spattered blood mars a portion of the wall, quickly bringing attention to itself. Together, all the elements in the photograph bring about a seemingly paradoxical sense of both frustration and equanimity, which in turn demonstrate expertise.

This expressive image resonates deeply with anyone who pursues writing as a hobby: the blank sheet that seems to constantly mock the writer; the crumpled page filled with words and sentences that simply aren’t good enough; the splattering of unknown substance on the wall that seems to symbolize frustration; and even the dreary, foreboding wall in the background. No matter at what stage a writer may find themselves at, the feeling of frustration will doubtless have reared its ugly face in front of them at one point or another, and the photograph accurately depicts the relentless beast known as writer’s block that strikes over and over again. It takes only a glance to quickly offer the most obvious interpretation of this image, but on a closer look, it seems that there is more than meets the eye.

While it is clear that there’s a definite theme of dissatisfaction portrayed in the content of the image, it would be incorrect to say that there’s not another dominant emotion presented here. In fact, the very same objects and elements in the image that symbolize writer’s block also double as objects that depict a sense of level-headedness. The crumpled sheet of paper has been discarded because the writer has recognized that it’s not the best that they can do, but instead of perhaps burning all failed attempts in a violent paroxysm of rage, has laid it to the side of the typewriter. The dark splatter on the wall, perhaps the results of channeling pent-up anger into something tangible, remains contained in one area of the wall and possesses a spectral, artistic quality about it. Even the vantage point from which the photograph is taken from lends an air of self-control; if it had been taken from an unusual or exaggerated angle, it probably would have served either to romanticize or mask the situation at hand. Instead, the photographer takes a direct approach in the image and shows the situation for what it is: nothing more, nothing less. It is the quintessence of equanimity.

The image’s composition masterfully combines two ostensibly opposing sentiments through the same elements, offering insight into what expertise could be. The writer’s frustration is undeniable, but it’s clear that this is no new phenomenon. The writer deals with the dilemma with an almost uncanny amount of composure, suggesting that while there is no way to avoid that which is universal to all writers, discovering what works—as well as what doesn’t—makes it far easier to deal with writer’s block. Expertise involves a level of proficiency in one’s craft, which in turn involves knowing what one can and can’t do. It’s not the same as giving up and settling for mediocrity, but is instead avoiding the trap of perfectionism and discovering how to deal with whatever limits there may be while also pushing forward to perfect the craft.

Expertise is not living in a blissful state of ignorance and pretending that there is no such thing as writer’s block; neither is it succumbing to the near-paralyzing effects of the phenomenon. The image models a good example that can be readily applied to an extensive range of hobbies and disciplines; the tricky part is discerning what the proper balance is. To what extent should one allow their frustration to control them? What is the line between equanimity and the irrational repression of the feelings one experiences a setback in whatever they pursue? As it so often is when it comes to matter as such, there’s no right answer. It all involves a continual process of developing your own expertise.

How would you define expertise, and how do you develop it?

Less than three,

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