What is Writer’s Block?
According to Encarta ® World English Dictionary, writer’s block is: “an inability on the part of a writer to start a new piece of writing or continue an existing one.”
I beg to differ. I believe that writer’s block is essentially an unwillingness to write. Not inability, but refusal.
Meagan Spooner has the right idea. She says, “Writer’s block is just a fancy way of saying ‘I don’t feel like doing any work today.”
Writer’s block isn’t some evil curse inflicted upon us by the creativity demons. It’s a state of mind, completely within our control. The reasons for writer’s block are many, and varied, but I will tell you right now that the best way I have found to overcome it is to keep writing. No matter how horrible it is, no matter how painful it is to pry the words out of your mind, don’t stop to second-guess yourself, don’t stop for anything. I can guarantee you, that half the time when you look back on what you’ve written, it won’t be nearly as horrible as you supposed.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
Writer’s block is not the disease, it is a symptom. It is a blanket term for a number of ailments that could strike a writer. David Stewart Warner has a good list of these on his blog, from everything to poor planning and lack of focus, to self-doubt, to pure laziness. I personally think the leading cause of writer’s block is fear, specifically a fear of writing badly.
Anna Quindlen says, “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.” And don’t forget the simple and beautiful alliterative warning of Rebecca Jane “Over analysis leads to paralysis.”
Sometimes, we forget that the literary classics didn’t spring as fully-formed gems from the minds of their writers. At times like these remember the immortal, if slightly paraphrased, words of Ernest Hemmingway: All first drafts are crap.
Avoiding Writer’s Block
We would all love to avoid writer’s block completely. So, here’s some ideas on how that could work.
Know your characters. Outline your book. Live and breathe your story as you write it. Whenever you have an idea, jot it down. If you keep your mind continually focused to your story –like looking through novel-hued glasses– there is a better chance it will continue to motivate you.
Accept that you will write badly, and that you will make mistakes. I refer now to a blog I wrote awhile back, and the mantra I shared there: First drafts suck. Get over it.
And we can all take a page out of Jennifer Egan’s book, who claims, “I haven’t had writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly.”
Instead of focusing on the eventual finished product, give your yourself manageable goals. Set a word count. Decide which scenes you will write today.
Set up a routine, and stick with it. Figure out the best time for you to write, with your schedule. Are you more productive in the morning, or at night? Do you work better with a time goal, or a word goal?
Overcoming Writer’s Block
You might be thinking, That’s great, Amanda, but what if I already have writer’s block? Then you need to learn how to overcome it.
This is, by far, the toughest question to answer. Not because there is no answer for overcoming writer’s block, or that it’s even hard to find, but that there are so many answers.
People’s brains work differently. What works for me, might not work for you. Many people say that you need to get away from the desk –go for a walk, take a shower, do some reading. Just stop writing. That doesn’t work for me. If I wander off to do something else, I oftentimes don’t get back to writing. I let myself get distracted, because I want to be distracted, but for some people it really works to clear their heads.
You have to identify the root of your problem. Sometimes for me it’s that I don’t know where I’m going. Something about the story or the character hasn’t quite solidified in my mind yet, and that can make writing uncomfortable, because I don’t know where I’m headed. Brainstorming about these particular uncertainties works wonders. Sometimes something needs fixing and sometimes you need to embrace an unexpected development, instead of fighting it.
Other times, I’m frustrated because I want every word that I write to be beautiful and powerful, but they don’t come out that way. This can lead to lack of focus, self-doubt, the disappearance of motivation –just remember, perfection comes in the editing stage, not the writing stage. Margaret Atwood says, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” And James Thurber made it clear, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”
Sometimes there is a problem with my plot. I could have written something earlier that doesn’t fit with my plan or outline, and it’s bugging me. There are times when such a mistake is actually a stroke of genius in disguise, but there are other times when it’s just a mistake. This is when forcing yourself to keep writing could become problematic. So fix the problem and make it work.
Self-doubt, selfish ambitions, your subconscious telling you that it’s BORING –these are all leading causes of writer’s block. Of course, there’s also the less glamorous beast of laziness. Paul Rudnick says, “Writing is 90 percent procrastination”, and William Goldman lends his own words of wisdom: “The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”
But I think my number one reason for writer’s block is insecurity. I begin to doubt whether I really am the writer that I think I am. I wonder if I’m any good, if I’ll ever be any good, if all my dreams of being published will ever come to pass, and it snowballs into this insane avalanche of doubt, of being disgusted with every sentence I try to write because it isn’t as powerful as I envisioned. I lose sight of my goal –to write 2,000 words– and become intimidated by the big picture. In this case, it’s best to remember the words of John Steinbeck, “When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”
I think the best tip by far comes from Merlin Mann of 43 Folders: “Write five words – Literally. Put five completely random words on a piece of paper. Write five more words. Try a sentence. Could be about anything. A block ends when you start making words on a page.”
Don’t think. Write.
I find that trying to get started is the hardest part for me every single day, and one of the easiest ways to get writer’s block. So here are some closing quotes to get you inspired:
“This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” –Neil Gaiman
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann
“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” –Mary Heaton Vorse
Guest blog by Amanda Thompson
Amanda K. Thompson is a wordbender, an autodidact, and a lover of corny jokes. A librarian by day and a writer by night, her work has been published in Bards & Sages Quarterly and Yellow Bird Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner. In addition to writing, she reads obsessively, reviews books on YouTube, and builds her nerdy sock collection. Currently, she is working on her first book, Rodney and the Gonjii, a fantasy adventure for children, whose first chapter is already a League of Utah Writers award winner. When she finally figures out the perfect formula to plot and organize a story, she will let the world know.
She can be found online at her blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel.
First Drafts Suck. Get Over it: http://amandakthompson.tumblr.com/post/49521300801/first-drafts-suck-get-over-it
Writer’s Block: http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/journal/2012/06/writers-block/
Hack Your Way Out of Writer’s Block: http://www.43folders.com/2004/11/18/hack-your-way-out-of-writers-block
Writers on Writing: http://grammar.about.com/od/yourwriting/a/wblockquotes.htm
Writer’s Block Does Not Exist: http://eclecticpills.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/writers-block-does-not-exist/
How to Avoid Writer’s Block: http://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Writer%27s-Block
13 Famous Writer’s on Overcoming Writer’s Block: http://flavorwire.com/343207/13-famous-writers-on-overcoming-writers-block/
201 Ways to Arouse Your Creativity: http://writetodone.com/201-ways-to-arouse-your-