A thousand excuses to hide behind
Sleeping through the voices blind
Crack the Writer’s Block and find
All the Gems inside
It comes in many names. It may look different for different authors. Some argue whether it even exists. Whatever it ultimately is, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who didn’t have some momentary experience of the paralysis of a blank page, the sudden inability to form a meaningful draft, the doldrums of a lack of enthusiasm and a thirst for renewed inspiration, textual constipation.
I’ve been chatting with a few of my blogger friends out there and they, like myself, have been met with so-called “writer’s block” in recent days. I’m fairly sure that most of us want to write more but sometimes the process of writing can feel like trying to walk through concrete. There’s something I’ve come to believe here, though, and this might just be errant superstition but at least it’s an opportunity for me to be transparent about writing in my life: Figuring out how to cope with writer’s block is more what writing is all about than just having the words flow freely all the time.
Consider that the artist who never wrestles with their art or despairs over their skill may never learn how to improve either. If writing is about re-writing, as I’ve been told, then this is likely true.
My theory is that we’ve so romanticized writing and the writer’s life and being a writer that when reality sets in, when we meet immediate limitations, we start to wonder if we’re even cut out for this lifestyle and craft at all. Yet it seems to me that if you’re experiencing writer’s block that that’s a good indicator that you’re a writer! We might’ve envisioned “being a writer” as sipping tea on a rainy day with a notepad in hand or drinking coffee in a café next to a laptop or sitting in front of an old fashioned typewriter (which is an art in and of itself!).
We think of writing like an Instagram pic when it’s more like exploring a cave alone.
There’s a quote I once read attributed to Bruce Thielemann from 1977. It’s about preaching as a ministry in the church but I’ve done preaching and I’ve done writing and I know there’s a lot of overlap there. Sermons must be written, after all. This quote is about the reality of preaching but I think it’s also about the reality of writing, beyond the glamorizing:
“There is no special honor in being so gifted – there is only special pain. The pulpit calls them to it as the sea calls its sailors, and, like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest, but always there is the lure of its ‘better and incomparable’ society. To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.”
So if we’re to accept the fact that writer’s block happens to writers, then how to we overcome this inevitability? How do we crack open the writer’s block to find the gems inside, push past the difficulty to make our writing even better through hardship?
There are no easy answers. Sorry. Like I said, writer’s blocks can look different for everyone. I can only share with you six methods that have helped me deal with it (you won’t believe number 7!):
#1 – Getting some exercise
Controversial, I know, but if writing comes from the brain and from the heart then maybe getting the blood pumping can’t be too bad of a thing. There’s been talk of oxygen improving memory and attention, so getting some fresh oxygen in the lungs seems logical when trying to get your focus back. Sometimes I’ll take a walk around the block or run around the house chasing my toddler, or I’ll even pop in some Dance Dance Revolution, anything to increase my heart rate. More often than not, when I come back to the piece of writing I was stumbling through I’ll have a new idea or at the very least some renewed energy.
#2 – Returning to inspiration
Beyond the first point, this is the advice I most often give. It’s easy enough. Go back and rewatch/replay/reread whatever reliably inspires you. Your favorite movie? Watch it with someone who hasn’t seen it before. Your favorite book? Start up a conversation with someone who has read it as well. Your favorite video game? Maybe do a quick writing bit on something you’ve always found exciting about it.
#3 – Talking about writing and writer’s block
Communication is key. A lot of times I’ll get ideas for articles or things to say just from talking with people and asking them questions. Talk with other writers about their thoughts and learn from them. Talk about your own writer’s block. Heck, let’s say I have writer’s block but I just wrote this whole post about it. There’s your topic and it has a certain utility to it. Knowing you’re not alone in struggling with writing is important so find other authors that writing has wounded.
#4 – Stopping the comparisons
Learning from other writers is great but it can quickly become unhealthy when you start comparing yourself to them. Many of us may look at more successful writers as rivals or as idols and begin to think of our own work as rubbish by contrast. Just think that they couldn’t write what you can. They don’t have your experiences, your know-how, your thoughts and emotions. Only you can write what comes out of you. Makes sense? Of course it does. Besides, there are too many copycats anyway. If you want to write more and write better then just write, write what only you can write.
#5 – Realizing it doesn’t have to be perfect
When I get writer’s block the most is when I come to review an extremely popular game. I detailed that in the opening sections of our Final Fantasy VII review. What I had to tell myself is that this review couldn’t be the end all ultimate article on the game. It just couldn’t. It couldn’t be comprehensive about every nuance and experience with it. It may not even be the last time in my life that I write about the game, anyway. Point being, realize your work should be polished and edited (unless of course you don’t care about that sort of thing and you’re doing something like a thought diary) but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Constantly tweaking it is going to mean you can’t get to the next article, which is likely to be better, anyway. If you won’t (not can’t) get past one article then will you get to the better ones?
#6 – Forcing yourself through it
If there’s a theme to this post, this is it. At the end of the day, writing doesn’t magically flow from one’s fingertips. It may feel like that at times in your life, sure, but realistically it’s work just as much as film making, painting, hiking, engineering, songwriting, and dreaming. Enjoying it is irrelevant. Yeah that sounds harsh (probably much more than I mean it to) but if you expect to enjoy every single moment of writing then you’ve got to meet other writers. Sometimes you may just need to sit down and force yourself through a difficult section to reach the other side. It might come out less than you wanted it to be but at least it’ll be done and you can get on with the good stuff!
If we only did the things we “feel” like doing, then the most important things in life wouldn’t get done and isn’t writing itself important?
Ultimately, writing isn’t to be glamorized. The above pieces of advice don’t always work for me. I’m skeptical of those people who are constantly like “I love being a writer”, like those inspirational Facebook placards. Those I’ve known who have given up on writing gave up because it wasn’t what they expected, and what they expected was not real. It’s a creative act but it requires a degree of effort and work. Combine one part butt with one part seat. Do that so you can do this:
Just kidding. That never happens to anyone.
As this is an Asking Big Questions post, I am happy to invite you to share your thoughts on overcoming writer’s block! Here’s how this typically works:
You can share a comment on what you think in the comments section below or you can be extra awesome and write up your own blog post about how you deal with the blockage. Just link back to this post in yours, leave us a link here so we can find you, and invite your own readers to participate so we can all learn from each other!
If you’re struggling with writer’s block, keep an eye out for what everyone shares. Maybe someone has the perfect piece of advice for you.
In your service,
-The Well-Red Mage
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