Asking Big Questions #003: “How do you overcome Writer’s Block?”

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A thousand excuses to hide behind
Sleeping through the voices blind
Crack the Writer’s Block and find
All the Gems inside
-TWRM

 

 

Writer’s block.

 

 

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.

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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.

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That is a tiny cup of coffee. Unrealistic.

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:

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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,
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-The Well-Red Mage

 

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35 thoughts on “Asking Big Questions #003: “How do you overcome Writer’s Block?”

  1. When the right brain falters, let the left brain take over.

    In art and design we use visualization tools to paint a
    bigger picture. These can include screen shots, gifs,
    drawings, quotes, make collages etc. digital or analog.

    You are still working on the project at hand but using
    the more impressionistic visual left brain side. A picture
    can tell a thousand words, so let the creative juices
    flow. Forget for a short while about the writing part
    and focus on the feeling, the mood, the nuances.

    A project is much less daunting when you allow
    spontaneity and creative freedom enter the process.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing! This approach helps me most in the planning stages, otherwise it helps me ramble when I’m actually attempting to write the review for something. Occasionally I do the opinion pieces and this is more useful for that. I liked attempting to get into a kind of mood with writing in the past and I eventually figured out that my particular writing approach denies me the use of music. If I listen to music while writing I get distracted. It’s interesting to see how each writer approaches this question and what they use to solve it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. #4 is my biggest problem, I think. I see so many other awesome writers post things, and my stuff instantly seems like trash. Exercise does help! Great advice here. As you are aware, I am battling the block now. Maybe writing a response post to this will help? Then I promise I’ll try really hard to write my FFXIII trilogy article for a certain project… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a big takeaway from all this is finding something that works for you. Not everyone struggles with this to the same degree, or even from the same angle. For some it’s pretty cut and dry, but for others it’s much more nebulous. I struggle with #4 myself which is why it appears on my list! To be perfectly honest, I’ll still get massively depressed every once in a while because of it! But that’s all the more reason for me to encourage you to write what only you can write. That was the best advice someone gave me on that subject. You’re an individual and writing is a craft. Only you can write what you can write. I won’t pretend it makes writing a walk in the park all the time, but everything helps.

      That would certainly be awesome if you want to write up a response post! I’d love to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually go with Number 1, but instead of exercise, I just take a break to read a book or play a video game. The strategy works pretty well and I’m usually able to return with a clear mind. Other times I just put the current review on hold and just pick a completely different one to work on instead although that’s not always possible if there’s only 1 in the backlog

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You were absolutely right, I don’t believe number 7 at all. 🙂

    I tend to write in the evenings after work (or sometimes during work when it’s quiet… shhh) so I spend a lot of time throughout the day thinking about what I’m going to write. I usually start the day with a topic in mind; in fact I generally try and have the week vaguely planned by the time I get to Monday, as I don’t post on weekends.

    My “Cover Game” format that I use on my site gives me a ready-made structure for at least one article a week, as I know that if I’m covering [game] this month, then one article this week needs to be about an aspect of [game]. If I can’t think of something specific or a unique way to cover that game that month, I split the Cover Game up into four main components: Introduction/history, Mechanics, Narrative and Aesthetics, then do an article on each. If I just stick to that basic approach (as I did fairly rigidly in my first few months adopting the Cover Game format — I’m a bit more flexible now) then I know I’ve covered all aspects of that game to my satisfaction.

    But what about the other days of the week? Well, having irregular “series” I can fall back on helps, which is why I started my “Essentials” lineup, allowing me to focus on shoot ’em ups, puzzle games or titles for specific (and perhaps underappreciated or retro) systems. Adopting my “Waifu Wednesday” format also gives me something to do on Wednesdays, as there are so many awesome female characters in games and visual novels to celebrate, whatever the mainstream media might want to try and tell you.

    All of this relies on a certain level of self-discipline. I’ve acquired this through several means: firstly, through my old and defunct personal blog at https://angryjedi.wordpress.com, where I posted every day for 2,541 days regardless of whether I actually had anything to write about. Secondly, I’ve done professional games writing for a number of outlets, the most recent being GamePro (RIP) and USgamer, and during my time there I had to put out good quality stuff each and every day, regardless of whether or not it was a “slow news day”. I got good at that, too; I remember before GamePro shut down my contributions were particularly highlighted as often drawing a significant amount of traffic even as the site as a whole was struggling. It’s not all about traffic, of course, but it’s always nice to know people are reading your stuff.

    Above all, it’s about practice and, as you say, just pushing through, however hard it might seem. Sometimes people’s most interesting work comes about when they’re forced to get creative! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Practice and pushing through, and I also got the gist of preparation and organization from your comment. Thanks! Organization is one thing I am personally working on. I finish my posts whenever I finish a game, so they’re not always predictable. I don’t always have the next installment ongoing series or a thought piece at the ready but if a game is taking me too long to finish, then that’s what I’ll crank out. Either way, I enjoy the process which is important to me, but organization. I could use it! Thank you for sharing a thoughtful comment, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. Writing about the writer’s block is generally the tactic that works best for me. I may describe it allegorically, or metaphorically (To paraphrase Edwyn Collins) But ultimately I find it works better than anything else. Eventually you’ll think of something else, and that will lead to “Maybe this can work in my story, article, review, lyrics, poem, etc.” It may take awhile but it totally works.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is especially relevant to me at the moment, because I not only failed to make my 50k words for NaNo, I barely made any headway with the story at all. It was sort of writer’s block? But more specifically writer’s block because I didn’t figure out what I was going to have my main character doing before the inciting incident that completely upends her life and jeopardizes her life plans.

    I usually turn to a good book, good movie/TV show, or good game to get my creative juices flowing again. Exercise is REALLY good, though that’s been problematic with my health issues, but when I could jog, I’d think of some of the best lines, descriptions, parts of my stories. Driving also helps. Any kind of movement just makes my brain switch on the imagination in full force.

    To solve my current problem I’m just going to move on TO the inciting incident and come back and fill in the blanks later. This is new for me since I’ve always written every other story in order, but I also always do something new with every single story I write, so this is not too surprising hehe. Oh, talking to other writers about my woes helps, too, because sometimes I can pinpoint what the issue is, which helps me overcome it. A lot of times I look at writing like I do any other problem solving and/or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I know it’s there in my head; it’s just a matter of figuring out where I hid all the pieces and how they fit together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s interesting to ponder the different circumstances that bring writer’s block into being. Sometimes it’s a lack of inspiration but it’s not always that. It could be from preparation, I suppose!

      I am surprised at how well exercise works for getting through this!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s because exercise releases endorphins! I think it could be writing yourself into a corner, lack of prep (which is what happened in my case in terms of the beginning), not outlining enough; there are so many factors. Driving inspo is the most annoying because I can’t just write down what pops into my head. That’s where audio recording would definitely come in handy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m with you on that piece of advice about writing through writers block. It happens to us all. Sometimes its good to have a bit of a break, do something completely different, and come back to it refreshed. I write about / review lots of different subjects, I find that also help, mixing up writing styles can also keep things fresh 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are definitely ways around it. Variety is a great suggestion! I think if you’re just going to write about 18th century Midwestern Ragged Bluegrass songs named after liquor, then you’ll probably run short of topics preeeetty quick 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Very sound advise. I haven’t hit it too much, but when I’ve been unable to write, or feel like I need to force myself, it usual stems from a lack of inspiration for me. There I usually like to do one of 2 things. Either see what everyone else is up to and maybe run of ideas inspired by their posts. Or better yet, since my blogs all about video games, just get back to my roots and play some more games. Ultimately there are many great games and experiences I’d love to talk about that just experiencing one of them will spark many ideas usually.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, your tips n’ tricks! Replaying a favorite game does the trick sometimes, like you can maybe find something that you didn’t notice before that makes you love it even more. Journey is one obvious one for me but really the early RPGs do it for me too. What are some specific games you go back to?

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go back to some old inspirations, given how much stuff is out and the catching up I need to do. If I had the time, I’d re-visist the Metroid Prime trilogy right now. I have had quite a bit of fun lately though playing more Master Mode in Breath of the Wild. I know it sounds silly to say, since it hasn’t been a year since it came out, but I finished it before the summer and coming back to it now has been quite enjoyable and I’m already looking for some material within it to discuss.

        Liked by 1 person

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