Writer’s Block is the bane of all writers. Whether it takes the form of staring at a blank page not knowing what to write, or helplessly writing and rewriting the same line over and over again and never actually moving forward, writer’s block can be very destructive to those who allow it to rule them.
When asked about writers block, professional writers often say that writer’s block is a luxury you can’t afford. If you don’t write, you can’t live. Just like in any office job, it doesn’t matter whether you feel inspired or not, you still have to produce something. Writing is no different which is why you’ll hear more and more writers tell you that writer’s block doesn’t really exist. It’s a convenient justification for why you’re not writing.
See, the idea is, as Picasso once famously said, ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working’. The idea of writer’s block has become that of a mystical force that seems only to occur in the field of writing. It can’t be stopped, you can only wait for inspiration to strike again. But that’s not how inspiration works. To be inspired, you have to be doing something.
Early in 2017 I attended a workshop on overcoming the barriers to your writing hosted by crime fiction writer Jock Serong. He suggested that Writer’s Block should instead be called Writer’s Detour. Because let’s face it, if you’re driving along a road to get somewhere and they’ve blocked the road, you don’t just give up going where you’re going or wait for them to remove the block, you take a detour, and writer’s block is no different.
Identifying what’s stopping you from writing
The first thing to do on your detour is identify the factors that are stopping you from wanting to write. Are you such a perfectionist that you think anything you write will be a disappointment? Are you afraid of the judgement of others? Do you have nothing to say (in which case why are you trying to write)? Is there something else you feel you ought to be focusing your attention on other than writing? Is your project flawed in a way that you don’t want to deal with so you’re telling yourself that it’s writer’s block because to confront the real issue would be an overwhelming amount of work?
All of these are valid reasons people use the excuse of ‘Writer’s Block’, but you can probably already see that each of these things has a solution. Once you’ve identified the problem it’s time to create a plan to move past it. If you’re a perfectionist, write it anyway and then edit it and re-write it until you’re happy with what you’ve produced. Likewise if you feel you need to focus your attention on other things (housework, children, your day job, or other projects) it’s time to create a planner and put aside time for your writing so that you don’t feel like you’re neglecting anything. If your project is flawed, it’s hard to face up to but better to face that reality now rather than later right? Again, make a solid plan of how you’re going to address the flaws in your project and start working towards them.
Sometimes writer’s block can be something as simple as your mood so it’s important to identify exactly what sort of mood you’re in and how that’s effecting your writing. It’s a good idea to use your moods to your advantage. For example if you were writing a novel and your prose is coming off stiff and factual, it may be a good time to draw up genealogies, maps, timelines and plot out what needs to happen for your characters to get from A to B. If you’re in a sad mood and it’s making your writing melancholy, skip forward to a chapter where your character isn’t in a particularly happy state of mind. If you’re feeling sluggish then it’s a good idea to just push through your writing. You’ll need to go back over it at a time when you’re in more of a clinical mood to edit it and rid it of the clichés and meandering prose, but it’s better to have something to edit that nothing at all. Over time you’ll come to identify your moods and realise that being sluggish or mopey doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write, rather that you need to approach different aspects of your writing when you’re in different moods.
If you’ve got nothing to say, then most people would say that you are lacking inspiration. One could argue this isn’t writer’s block but clearly just a lack of ideas to start the process. But as we’ve said already, inspiration doesn’t just come from nowhere.
So here’s some activities to help you move past the lack of inspiration stage:
- Write down words that you like and research their etymology
- Write a detailed description of something that’s going on around you
- Use websites like postsecret.com or lettersofnote.com for random ideas generators and writing exercises.
- Follow Flaubert’s example – all you need to do is write one sentence. That’s all. The result is surprising
- Research things that interest you to generate new ideas
- Read news articles or research proposals and ask yourself ‘what if this happened?’
And finally, when it comes to inspiration, don’t forget to put yourself in new situations. Nothing dulls the mind like routine. Get out and see new shows, listen to new music, meet new people, and generally experience new things. After all, good writers draw from experience, whether those experiences are their own or someone else’s. So put yourself in a position to get a new point of view and you’ll find that there’s plenty of inspiration flowing.