Fairies, sex, and writer’s block

28 Apr 2023

Holly Hartley loves books. For the upcoming semester, the English literature exchange student is going to compile a reading list about her remaining time in Nijmegen. This week: Sarah J. Maas and the ups and downs of writing academic essays about fantasy books.

As I sit in front of my computer, something feels off. I’ve done my usual pre-essay ritual. Made a cup of tea (milk, no sugar), organised my workspace, laid out all my notes, and colour-coded everything within an inch of its life. But the creative juices are not flowing. I have never written an academic paper of this scale before. It’s 5,000 words, and safe to say that I feel somewhat out of my depth.

Ironically enough, the paper that is not inspiring my imagination is about fantasy – of all genres. More specifically: I chose to write about cheesy, fantasy romance, and now, I can’t quite reconcile my literary guilty pleasure with constructing a serious essay. As it turns out, it’s hard to write critically about something you enjoy – especially if it doesn’t feel stereotypically academic.

Fantasy has been having a renaissance lately, from Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series to Holly Black’s various contributions to the genre. Cheesy fantasy romance novels have been taking BookTok and Bookstagram by storm. So why not write about what everyone is reading at the moment? I love that my course gives me the freedom to do so – even though I never thought I would be writing about fairies’ sexual relationships as part of my degree. But here we are.

‘I never thought I would be writing about fairies’ sexual relationships as part of my degree. But here we are’

Maybe the problem isn’t even the topic that I’m writing about. This might be a classic case of crippling perfectionism. I wonder how many drafts of A Court of Thorns and Roses Sarah J. Maas wrote before she, and her editor, deemed it perfect. Similarly, I will write several drafts of this essay before I submit it and sketch a rough outline before I fill in the gaps with scholarly sources and quotes.

Yet somehow, I always pressure myself to write the perfect essay on the first try. Is everyone like this? It’s funny to think of someone I consider an accomplished author also tearing their hair out at the thought of an empty page staring back at them, their agency and editor breathing down their neck.

But while the thought of that is reassuring, it doesn’t get my essay written any faster. I’m still sitting with my cup of tea (now cold) in front of my laptop. Blank page staring back at me. Deadline breathing down my neck. But at least, I tell myself, writing a blog feels like an excellent mode of procrastination.

Read Holly Hartley's blogs here

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