The reading level for this article is All Levels
Back when I was in college, I belonged to one of those professional associations for the video industry. (I was a student member.) The monthly newsletter had a column called “Writer’s Block.” Although called Writer’s Block, no one ever wrote about this mysterious and debilitating condition. So, finally, one day I decided to tackle the subject.
I don’t remember much about the article except it seemed to be about eating chocolate, taking walks and not doing much writing (it was supposed to be tongue in cheek). I don’t think it turned out as successful as I had hoped.
Anyway, my point is this — while I still eat lots of chocolate and take lots of walks, I’ve also been forced to wrestle with that particular nightmare many a time. And in those wrestling matches, I’ve learned a few moves that might help you in your own struggles.
First, I’ve come to view writer’s block as a friend more than an enemy. Okay, maybe friend is too strong. An ally. (Okay, maybe he’s a really mean ally, but an ally all the same.)
Writer’s block isn’t about the writing. Writer’s block isn’t telling you you can’t write or you’ll never write again or you’ll never have another idea again. Writer’s block is telling you something else is wrong, and you need to deal with that something before you can get down to the business of writing.
Now, when I say writer’s block, what I’m talking about is the inability to write. You have no idea where to start, no idea where the project is going, or maybe you have no ideas at all. That’s true writer’s block, not to be confused with writer’s procrastination. Writer’s procrastination is when you know what you want to be writing (or should be writing) yet you’ve somehow lost the ability to sit in a chair and type. Oh, but you can still check e-mail. And surf the Web. And lots of other tasks that have nothing to do with the writing project you should be doing. But try and start that project — you’ll just fall right off that chair.
I’ve had more than my share of encounters with that particular fellow as well, and I’m planning to share tips on beating writer’s procrastination in future issues. (Trust me, you need to beat writer’s procrastination. He is the enemy and he’s evil.)
But writer’s block is different. Writer’s block says there’s a problem. Writer’s block says you haven’t researched this project enough or you haven’t thought this through enough or you’re missing crucial information. Maybe your approach is all wrong. Maybe you should be writing a Web site and not a brochure for your business. Maybe you’re trying to force a book-sized idea into an article-sized container and it just doesn’t fit.
If your ideas have suddenly dried up, maybe writer’s block is telling you to take it easy. You’ve been working too hard — you need to take time and recharge your creative batteries. Or maybe you haven’t dealt with some old hurt or anger and you need to take some time and deal with that block.
Writer’s block also might be telling you the project is all wrong for you. (Although be careful with the last one — writer’s procrastination is a wonderful mimic and he might be trying to slip something past you.)
When I’m stuck, the first thing I do is get away from the computer. I take a walk, jump in the shower (I get a lot of great ideas in the shower) or eat some chocolate. (Some things never change.) I think about the project. I review my notes. I analyze what I’m doing. And I ask myself questions. Do I have all the information I need? Should I do more research? Is my approach right? Have I thought this project through enough?
Sometimes I can spot the problem in a few minutes. Sometimes it takes a few days. But always, without fail, I’ve discovered writer’s block was right. There WAS a serious problem with the project. A fatal flaw in the foundation — a weakness in the structure. Eventually, it would have collapsed.
And by stepping in, your writer’s block stopped that from happening.
Creativity Exercises — Make friends with writer’s block
I realize this might be a scary exercise for some of you, especially if you’re in the throes of writer’s block (and I’ve been there — I know how terrifying it is) but that’s all the more reason to do this.
Now, when I say make friends with your writer’s block, I’m not talking about inviting it to move in and existing in a permanent blocked state. What I’m talking about is a way to put writer’s block in its rightful place — where it uses its talents to help and not harm you.
Take a few moments and thank your writer’s block. Thank it for all the times it blocked you. Tell it you know it was trying to help you and you appreciate it.
Whatever you do, DON’T fear your writer’s block. You give it too much power if you fear it. Power corrupts. You don’t want to corrupt your writer’s block, you want it to do its job — helping you craft the best writing pieces you can.
If you’re in the middle of a bad case of writer’s block, try asking your writer’s block what the problem is. Why won’t it let you start that project or what happened to your ideas? Do it as a journaling exercise or a meditation. You may be amazed at what it tells you.