The myth about the myth about writer’s block


Some professionals say it doesn’t exist. But I say it does. I’ve seen it. It crawled up my leg one day and bit me so hard that I was speechless–wordless, so to speak.

Pretty much anyone who has tried to put words on paper (screen?) has had those moments that threaten to turn into hours when you feel you have nothing to say. So what do you do? What magical potion can put the words back in your mouth, the ink back in your pen and the itch back into your grubby little fingers?

Well, in order to find a solution, you have to look at what the cause is. From my own history, I would blame three causes for writer’s block: (1) you have nothing to say; (2) you have other things competing for the same brain space; (3) self-destruction through self-editing. Let’s look at them one at a time.

(1) You have nothing to say. Chances are, you do have things to say. You just don’t know what they are. Sometimes the solution to this is to free write–just start typing and see where that takes you. I’ve learned over the years that my time is valuable, so whenever I have ideas I write them down. Often they come when I don’t have the time to write or can’t access a computer, such as when I am in the shower, mowing the lawn, or washing dishes (yes, I do wash dishes on occasion). If you still aren’t coming up with ideas, you need to be reading. Writers read. A lot. Visit the website http://www.whereiwrite.org and see the environment where the writers work. In almost every occasion, they are surrounded by books. If you are afraid of stealing someone else’s ideas in your writing by reading theirs, read my blog entitled, “Daddy, where do ideas come from?”

(2) You have other ideas pushing your Muse out the window. This happens to me a lot. In fact, I had come to the conclusion that I couldn’t write during the school year, because I had too many other things competing for my attention. But last November I learned otherwise when I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge was to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Committing to it forced me to give writing priority. Another trick I have learned is to get up early and write before the day’s pressures hit me. I can often get 1,200 words done by doing that. Sometimes the other thoughts that are commanding space in your brain are so intense that you have to take a sabbatical from writing. One time I took a week of vacation with the intent of working on a novel. The first day of my vacation, I was overwhelmed by writer’s block. I cut myself some slack and went saw a couple of movies. The next day, free of the false expectation, I wrote 14 pages. You just have to find what works for you.

(3) Self editing. This is the pit I see many student writers falling into. They think that those first words have to be golden. Hogwash! Almost invariably, I find myself writing the first chapter on every novel I have written. It’s common for writers to struggle to get started. So just start writing, keeping in mind that you are very likely to throw the first few paragraphs or even pages away. Another thing that helped me was–again–National Novel Writing Month. Because their emphasis is on volume of words–quantity, not quality–the first rule is not to edit anything you write. Editing comes later. What’s important is getting the words out. And the best way to do that is to just write.

I hope that helps. I’ve seen frustrated students who struggle with writer’s block. And believe me, I’ve been there too. It’s real, but it can be beat. The main thing is to cut yourself some slack.

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3 thoughts on “The myth about the myth about writer’s block

  1. I like this post. I have the opposite going on now — “writer’s flood” or, as I have coined a new term “literary diarrhea”. Yes, that’s somewhat gross.

    The flood gates opened for me during the summer writing workshop I attended as part of the National Writing Project. I was a reluctant, almost non-existent writer before then. Suffice it to say, a few weeks being asked to write small snippets of genres unlocked a toy box of fun writings.

    I’m still trying to find my niche — the form of writing that best represents me — my voice, my style, my attitude. And of course, find a way to make it enjoyable for others to read.

    If you’re interested (and have the time) to check out a new writer’s blog, feel free to stop by my place. I’ll leave a reading light on for you!

    The Nerd

  2. I think my problem is usually #2.
    I’m easily distracted, especially if I’m about to start writing. Once I start it’s a lot easier to stay on task, but when i sit down to start writing everything else that I need to do, or want to do, or even could do despite the fact that I don’t feel like it.

    It be a struggle. That be sure.

    1. I have that often as well. I’ve gotten in the habit of clearing the clutter by getting the easy stuff out of the way first, then focusing on the big stuff when that is done. If it’s just mental clutter, then you might try writing in the morning. Another trick is to change where you write, or completely clear off your desk before you write.

      The mind is a tricky thing, and writing is 90% a mind game.

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