Have you sat at the kitchen table chewing your pen or doodling because the words just won’t come?
Is your dog exhausted because you drag him out for a walk every time you can’t write?
Yep – the dreaded writer’s block. It happens to all of us, doesn’t it?
Does Writer’s Block Exist?
There are as many “No, it doesn’t” articles out there as “Yes, it does,” ones. It depends on what you read and also on your own personal experience. Some people (including professional writers) say that it doesn’t exist. I would argue that it does exist but it’s not the writer’s block that does the damage – it’s not knowing how to deal with it. Authors who deny its existence have just learned to work around it and have therefore ceased to suffer from it.
Some professional writers have shared how they feel about being stopped in their tracks. Others have generously explained how they deal with it.
Let’s see what authors have to say about it. You’re about to enter quote and Tweet heaven.
Avoiding the Issue
How many of you have sat down to write and an hour later, got an almost overwhelming urge to wash the kitchen floor? I’ll be the first to put my hand up.
Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Paul Rudnick
This is one of the most common causes of writer’s block. In fact, it’s one of the most common causes of getting absolutely nothing done – especially if you’re a creative person. As the divine Cher says at the beginning of one of her 80’s workout videos “You don’t have to do it perfectly. You just have to do it.”
Here are a few to show you that you’re not alone.
I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent—and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise. Malcolm Gladwell
Lack of Confidence
Feeling That you Will be “Found Out” as a Fraud
Yep. A much loved author who wrote her first book in 1991. That first book was “Sex and the City.” Lack of confidence is an author-wide affliction. We just need to learn how to deal with it.
All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone. Erica Jong
This is great advice from the author of the classic “Fear of Flying.” If you can get yourself into this headspace, it really takes the pressure off. At least that way you can get something down and edit and polish it much later on.
We can’t be as good as we’d want to, so the question then becomes, how do we cope with our own badness? Nick Hornby
Hmmm. Slightly dodgy grammar there from Mr Hornby but he writes brilliant books so we’ll forgive him. And…he raises a good point. When you’re writing a lengthy tome or even a long blog post, by the time you get to the end, you’ll think the beginning is weaker and not so well written. Of course, you can and should re-write and edit until it shines like a jewel. The important part is knowing when to stop. You have three options here:
1. Keep going back to the beginning and rewriting it – at which point the end will look weaker. Rewrite the end and the beginning will look weaker. You may have just found your life’s work – the constant re-edit.
2. Rewrite and edit until you’ve written the soul right out of that sucker.
3. Rewrite and edit. Put it into a drawer or a file on your pc and don’t look at it for at least a week. This is tricky if you’re on a deadline so only follow step three when appropriate. When time’s up – take it out and read it from beginning to end without stopping. This – as we all know from experience – is incredibly difficult but give it your best shot. You are allowed a few gentle tweaks and then stop. You’re done.
Part of this process is learning to accept that you will get better as you go along. It’s a fact of life. Even best selling published authors look back and cringe at their earlier works. I would imagine. They’re only human after all and even famous authors started somewhere. Just like you.
Octavia Butler agrees.
You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. Octavia Butler
This is also very applicable in the short term. When you sit down to write, it’s rare to pick up exactly where you left off the day before. You need to get back into the zone so write through the mire and keep going until you come out into the sunshine.
This is a biggie and one that is very hard to follow particularly if you’re feeling blocked. However, this works for a lot of people so stick with it.
I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning. William Faulkner
I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done. Barbara Kingsolver
Nicholas Sparks’ way of writing gives you a goal. A “carrot and donkey” / “eat your vegetables before you get a desert approach.” You may find that trying to reach that goal gets your creative juices flowing and then you get to spend the afternoon in front of the TV with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s (thanks – I’ll have the Phish Food.) There are two potential downfalls with this method –
1. You may quickly write 2,000 words of drivel to earn longer downtime. To avoid this, keep re-reading and doing quality control. Then you can chill out with a clear conscience and feel virtuous. And enjoy the ice cream.
2. You may write 2,000 brilliant words and then keep going into the night – only to exhaust yourself and lose the muse altogether. Ernest Hemingway agrees with the “quit while you’re ahead” method of writing. It’s incredibly hard to walk away when you’ve just hit a rich seam of creativity but if it’s good enough for Mr Hemingway…just sayin’
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start. Ernest Hemingway
Forcing the Issue
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.Maya Angelou
Great advice from the much loved and missed Maya Angelou.
I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing — just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day.Anne Lamott
Tricks of the Trade
Advice from two major players here, so listen up. These guys know what they’re talking about.
Many years ago, I met John Steinbeck at a party in Sag Harbor, and told him that I had writer’s block. And he said something which I’ve always remembered, and which works. He said, “Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.John Steinbeck via George Plimpton
Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.Norman Mailer
I really like that last one. Just make an appointment with your “writing self” to meet up in the morning and get some writing done. Writing can be a lonely job too *sniffs and drips tears onto keyboard* – so this way, you’re meeting up with a friend. Yourself. Be good to yourself. You deserve it.
Woah – nearly detoured into Self Help territory there…
As long as the task is broken down into bite sized chunks, you shouldn’t feel so overwhelmed.
Relax and Enjoy It
If writing starts to feel like a chore or you become bored by it (not “bored of it” – shudder, pet hate) then your readers will be bored by it too. I’ll let the inimitable Ray Bradbury have the last word…
Now, what I’m thinking of is, people always saying “Well, what do we do about a sudden blockage in your writing? Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing. In the middle of writing something you go blank and your mind says: “No, that’s it.” Ok. You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying ‘I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.’ You’re being political, or you’re being socially aware. You’re writing things that will benefit the world. To hell with that! I don’t write things to benefit the world. If it happens that they do, swell. I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to have a hell of a lot of fun.Ray Bradbury
I've been a freelance writer for ten years. You name it - I've probably written it. I love working from home and I want to help you so that you can love it too. Hook up with me on Social Media and let's enjoy the journey together.