Crushing Writer's Block

Writer’s block ain’t real. I mean, it’s a “thing”, and it feels real, and we talk about it like it’s real. But, it’s not.

I guess this is the point where I throw my years of experience as an English major, tutor, and Instructor around to “prove” that my claim is correct. And I still might, but for right now I want to give you time to stop doing this:

Let’s talk about writer’s block. What’s interesting is, most people who’ve ever attempted to write anything: a letter, a song, an essay, a book, anything, can speak of this menacing villain that robs them of time, effort, and motivation. It comes in at some point (usually after they were on a roll), steals their words, and leaves them with a blinking cursor that mocks their efforts at literary greatness. Or, if they’re old school, a pen lying lonely on a notepad or journal longing to be used to script the most powerful sentences anyone’s ever read.

Here’s the deal, y’all, writer’s block ain’t that powerful. Because it’s not real. There’s something else going on and we’ve given it control of our language mastery. No more. I’m going to give you some insight into what’s really stopping your flow. Usually one of the following things has happened when you’ve gotten “stuck”:

  • You’ve stumbled upon a hole in your argument. This happens when you haven’t fully fleshed out your idea. Ever driven in fog? I’m from Georgia. An evening summer rain will oft times leave us with a little fog that night because it gets insanely hot and humid. But then there are days, especially in winter, where the fog is manageable until it isn’t. Then it’s dense and you can barely see the high beams from oncoming cars. The thing is, it’s normally foggy the entire time, we just don’t notice it until it’s unbearable. That’s what’s happening when you come to a hole in your argument. It’s been foggy the entire time, but you’re just now noticing it because you’ve written yourself into a corner.

How do you fix it?

Start at the beginning of the wayward paragraph/section. Read it aloud. Read what you see, not what you think you said. Ask yourself why these things are important in your understanding of the overall subject at hand. You will find the hole and fix it. The sun will come out and dissipate the fog. Writer’s block defeated.

  • You don’t believe in what you’re saying. Now, this is related to the aforementioned hole, but it’s a personal issue. We write for our reader. Even if the reader is the self. Sometimes, we may lose confidence in what we’re about to express. Maybe it’s provocative, maybe it feels wrong, or maybe it’s blasphemous. Maybe it’s so out there that we can hear the scoffing, sniggling, or out and out belly laugh the reader can’t control when they read this thing we’ve said. Symptoms include:
    •  trying to rewrite a sentence that you haven’t written yet,
    •  getting stuck on a word because of its emotive connotation instead of its meaning,
    • cleaning your fridge, oven or microwave while your cursor blinks,
    • falling into a YouTube rabbit hole
    • winning 7 consecutive levels of (insert game here) while your cursor blinks

See what I’m getting at?

How do you fix it?

Own your story. Own your message. Own your words. Be clear in your intentions. Know that what you’re saying has value. Now, if you’re writing racist, homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic misogynist, ageist, ableist rhetoric, you’re on the wrong site; we don’t do that here. But if what you’re writing, be it a personal narrative, a letter to your betrothed, an essay about Teslas, or a book about how you overcame depression, is something you have any connection to, even if that connection is only intellectual, know that you absolutely have what it takes to write about it and to write about it such that someone will hear you and understand. Give yourself a pep talk and keep it pushing. They’re just words, write them. And if you can’t that means that you need to write about something else because you’re not interested in it enough to keep going. Which is why I tell y’all not to procrastinate.

  • You haven’t set yourself up for writing success. This one is make or break. Your surroundings are just as important to your writing process as your subject matter and motivation. I know there are some people who can write in any environment, under any circumstance. You have my utmost respect. I cannot. I have tried. I have to create a certain set of circumstances in a specific environment to get my mojo working. It took me years to figure out the right combination, but once I got it, I got it. Now let me add here that I have a more comprehensive list of tips and tricks for creating a good writing environment available in the freebies section, so don’t think that what I’m about to tell you is exhaustive, because it is most certainly not.

Writing is an exercise. If you work out, or do anything that requires prep work, you know that if things aren’t right, it can all go wrong. The same thought process that tells you to wash your work clothes, or make your pre workout drink, or create a playlist to get you going during the last 10 minutes of your time on the elliptical, is the same kind of thought process you need to set up your writing time.

How do you fix it?

Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

First, do you have a writing schedule? If not, you might want to consider carving out a few hours each day/week depending on your goals to get some words on paper. Not having a set schedule could mean the difference between your bestseller or A in the class, and spinning your wheels or getting a grade you don’t want. Developing your writing muscles requires just as much focused attention as developing any other muscle you plan on showing off. Do the work.

Secondly, are you hungry are thirsty? Even if you’re primed and ready to go, your animal brain will still put a halt to your whole operation for a glass of water or a bite of food. I normally keep water near my writing station and snacks/food away, depending on what part of the day it is. I talk more about this in the freebie, but wanted to mention it here because it’s important to make sure you take care of your brain so you can work at your best.

Lastly (for the sake of brevity), are you comfortable? If you’re uncomfortable in any way, and you know that you’ll be thinking about how uncomfortable you are the entire time you’re writing, GET COMFORTABLE. Because there’s no point in trying to write through discomfort. You want to do your best work, which requires your best self. Your best, most comfortable self.

So, you’ve been given your marching orders. Go check out your document. Check your intentions. Check your environment. Check your notes. Check yourself. Once you get all of that together, take a deep breath, exhale, get a sip of whatever floats your boat (non alcoholic stuff recommended, I’ll tell you why in the guide), and write something amazing.

Published by N.R. Byrom

30 something poet, writer, artist, and lover of all things beautiful and superfluous.

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