Even hearing these words can make any writer cringe, perhaps experiencing a flashback to a moment when they encountered this monster themselves.
The journey to becoming an author isn’t for the faint of heart. As a writer, there are many challenges to overcome already, writer’s block notwithstanding—planning a story, making sure the plot has no loopholes, character building, the writing itself, grammar… It can be a bit overwhelming for sure!
And now, on top of that, we have the concept of “writer’s block.” This term is heavily talked about in the literary world, and there is a vast array of opinions out there. There are some who believe it’s an incapacitating foe that can’t be overcome except through luck and a visit from the Muse, and there are others who think it doesn’t exist at all and is just an excuse used by authors who are too afraid to write.
For me, I lie somewhere in the middle. I think these two opinions, as with many extremes, can be dangerous. We don’t want to enable our struggles by paying them too much heed, but on the other hand, the fact that many (if not all) of us struggle with a lack of inspiration or drive needs to be recognized. We’re all in this together. We need to band together, support one another, and learn some helpful tips to combat the writer’s block that sneaks into our lives from time to time.
Before we dive in, I want to be honest with you—writer’s block is a normal part of the writing process, and I’ve dealt with it countless times. I’ve let it hold me back for most of my life, really. The key is not letting it control you. There are different types of writer’s block, and it will stop at nothing to keep you from creating. Actually, I read a very interesting book recently called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, where he discusses creativity blocks. He refers to his concept of “Resistance,” a force that is consistently turning creators (or anyone, for that matter) from their important work, stopping them from connecting to their inspiration and creativity. I definitely view “writer’s block,” as a symptom of this Resistance Pressfield describes. The way it will present itself to you individually will be different from others, but it doesn’t change the fact that it will come at times.
As a writer, you’re simply not going to be spouting ideas constantly. There will be moments when, no matter how hard you seem to try, the words just won’t come. Don’t worry—you have the power to kick it to the curb. And you may be surprised to find you can actually use it to your advantage.
First, the best way to combat writer’s block is by searching for the source. As I’ve said, this struggle will affect each one of us in various ways, and it usually stems from different parts of our lives and personalities. Your source may not be listed here, but here are a couple of common places that writer’s block can come from:
- Fear. This one may seem pretty obvious, but its power may surprise you. This is the source of my writer’s block 95% of the time. Fear of failure, fear of others’ opinions, fear that you’ll never be able to write anything worth reading at all… As a matter of fact, you may find that fear can work in tandem with some of these other sources, causing your writer’s block to grow and thrive.
- Writing before you’re ready. Depending on your unique writing process, you may need to brainstorm a while before you start putting those ideas down on paper. Sometimes, you may just not be mentally ready. Be introspective. Learn how to recognize where you are in your writing process. This will take some trial and error! You may discover your writer’s block is simply stemming from a need for more preparation and planning.
- Over-editing. I know, I know… this one is ironic coming from an editor. But really, over-editing before it’s time can be a big problem! This is one I’ve dealt with before, too. This may seem to conflict with the “Writing before you’re ready,” source, but as we’ve said, each person will have a different issue depending on their writing style. But sometimes… you just need to write. Don’t worry about making it absolutely perfect right now—that part comes later. Don’t continuously stop and start, constantly checking your work before you’ve actually written anything. A first draft is never exactly what you’re looking for. The time for editing will come in due course, but many times, getting words down on paper is sometimes the best medicine.
- The critiques of others. This one is huge—everyone’s a critic. But don’t let their comments kick your writer’s block into high gear. Try to let it fuel you, molding you into the writer you want to become. True, many won’t look to give you constructive criticism, per se, but you get to choose what you do with that criticism. Either turn it into something you can use or chuck it in the garbage can. Literally. Print it out, wad it into a ball, and throw it away. It’s cathartic, trust me.
- Time. Many of us try to find time to write whenever we can. We have family, friends, jobs, and so forth that need our attention, and it may be hard to find good, meaningful time to write. But it must be just that—good and meaningful. If you’re only able to carve out a couple of minutes at a time to write, then you’ll discover your product won’t be what you’re looking for. You won’t even have time to “get in your zone.” Your writer’s block may just be a lack of effective time to write. Find it and identify the process where you’re able to fully create in your space.
So now that we’re aware of some of the potential sources, how do we battle it? And yes, “battle” is a fitting word. As creators, this creativity block is our dragon, an enemy to be faced. Something you should know—it can be conquered, and even tamed, in a way.
Depending on the source of your writer’s block, there are different techniques you can use! Try some of these out. This will be another trial and error experience; find the cure that works for you. It may take different steps at different times, but the key is expanding your creativity and looking at things from a new perspective.
- Be attentive to your heart. This may sound whimsical and shallow, but I mean it! Dig down deep to figure out if there are any internal or external sources of writer’s block that are plaguing you. Be honest with yourself.
- Get the creative juices flowing in different ways. When we get stuck in writer’s block, we may try to force ourselves to write—this can sometimes make it worse. Try to spark your creativity in other ways! This can be so refreshing, and new ideas may come out of it. Here are some ideas for ways to do this:
- Listen to music.
- Paint, draw, etc.
- Go on a walk.
- Change the scenery.
- Write about something else, something different and unexpected.
- Make coffee or tea. This one really helps me out… There’s just something about a warm mug.
- Read one of your favorite books.
- Go sit outside in nature.
- …anything that gets your creativity flowing!
- Turn to your loved ones. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while! Confide in someone about what you’re going through. Bounce ideas off each other! It’s so comforting to talk to those who are in your corner.
- Don’t spiral. This is important—don’t get stuck in self-pity! Don’t build it up in your head. This is dangerous, and it’s actually very easy to do. After a while, you can start feeling like writer’s block is just your new normal.You can get stuck in a cycle of fear that will constantly repeat itself if you’re not careful. If you feel you’ve fallen in a pit, start trying to climb out immediately.
- REST. Turn writer’s block on its head and try to use it to your advantage. If you’re stuck, take a moment. Breathe. Rest. Refuel. Use this experience as a time of growth in other ways. If you use this opportunity to strengthen you, you can find yourself rejuvenated and ready to get back at it.
Hopefully, you’ll find some of these tips helpful as you combat your own version of writer’s block, no matter how it shows itself. I know you can do it! Looking back, you may realize this period in your writing was one of growth that you didn’t even expect.
As writers, we need to support each other as we experience dry seasons. We must band together and write on!
Thanks for tuning in today, and check back next week for an article on constructing your perfect writing space. This, too, is something that’s personally helped me overcome writer’s block.
We’ll see you next time at Madison K. Darby Editing!