Writer’s block is named for how similar it feels to trying to drive through a dump truckload of cinderblocks. On three hours of sleep. With no coffee. In a toy car. Without wheels. Flintstone style.
In other words: terrible and impossible and made into a video for everyone to laugh at.
Write for any amount of time and you’ll experience the dreaded signs.
Symptoms of Writer’s Block
- A strong desire to toss your computer out the window
- Repeated sighing and moaning
- Flopping around in your chair like a dying fish
- The impulse to run into the forest and live on acorns
- A blank page
- A page filled with gibberish
Some writers say it’s just an issue of ego or fear or performance anxiety. Other writers claim writer’s block is all made up. Some say they struggle with it constantly. Others have found ways to plow through. These four pieces of advice are a compassionate combination of all those viewpoints, including my own.
Normalize Writer’s Block
“I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.” – Toni Morrison
Most psychological struggles have a component of isolation to them. “This is just me. I’m alone in this.” You’re not. Everybody can relate, even if they don’t use the same words to describe it or are unwilling to admit it. With that in mind:
- Writer’s block isn’t caused by a critical flaw or a character deficit.
- You don’t have to write for a living to experience writer’s block.
- It doesn’t mean you’re out of ideas.
- Writer’s block is inevitable but not permanent.
- It’s evidence that you’re finite.
- Creativity takes effort; it’s eventually exhausting to everyone.
- Writer’s block affects even the best writers.
Outsmart Writer’s Block
“Don’t stop because you’ve hit a block. Finish the page, even if you write nothing but your own name. The block will break if you don’t give in to it. Remember, writing is a physical habit as well as whatever you want to think it is—calling, avocation, talent, genius, art.” – Isabelle Holland
The muse sometimes hits. But more often than not, good writing is the product of planning. For example: Who are you writing to? What do they need to know? What journey are you taking them on? What do you want them to do? What support do you have for the points you’re making? Having the answers to the basic components of your piece is important. Set yourself up for success with basic strategies that will ALWAYS benefit you, whether you’re struggling with writer’s block or busting out words like a printing press:
- Focus on research first
- Work in spurts so your brain has time to rest
- Create outlines to organize your thoughts
- Get the hard part out of the way
- Start early; don’t wait until you’re pressed for time
- Steal inspiration: in art, music, conversation, your past writing, or from other writers (note I said inspiration, not content)
Let Writer’s Block Win
“Writer’s block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you should feel the need to say something. Why? If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough.” – Hugh MacLeod
Creative work may not produce much sweat but it’s still grueling. We aren’t built to pump out endless innovative and thought leadership pieces, much less sit at a desk for 8 straight hours a day. If you need a break, take it. This is one sphere where pushing through is sometimes as silly as scraping the bottom of a dry well.
- Take a walk
- Get as far away from your desk and your computer as possible
Rename Writer’s Block
“I haven’t had writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly.” – Jennifer Egan
This will take some introspection, which the best writers need for their best writing anyway. What’s holding you back most often? Is it fear that you’ve run out of words? Is it the belief that you have nothing to say? Is it the idea that you’re either writing the most brilliant thing ever or the most hideous junk, there’s no in-between? Is it laziness?
Put writer’s block in its proper place with a new name based on when and how it most often arises for you.
- The “Gentle Pause Lest I Begin Breaking Things”
- The “I Need Sunshine Because I’m Not a Hibernating Bear”
- The “I Need a 2-Hour Nap Before I Start (Crying)”
- The “Very Poor First Draft Incoming”
- The “I’ve Got a Deadline, So Get the Heck Over It!”
Your writing is unique, so your approach to creative hurdles will have to be custom-made as well.
By the way, I wrote this blog post during a particularly beefy session of writer’s block.