There are many things that I enjoy about writing, but staring at the empty computer screen isn’t one of them. That white page surrounded by a sea of blue is intimidating and the “page 1 of 1 with the word count at the bottom left bellows my lack of words.
All that being said, I am in good company. Some of the best loved writers throughout history have been plagued by this affliction. What makes Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf different from other writers? They didn’t let the Block paralyze them for any length of time. They figured a way around whatever it was keeping them from producing pages of writing. If they can do it, so can you. So can I.
What is this mysterious thing called Writer’s Block? I found a working definition on Wikipedia:
“Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some “blocked” writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers. It can manifest as the affected writer viewing their work as inferior or unsuitable, when in fact it could be the opposite. The condition was first described in 1947 by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler.”
Here’s a definition, but that still doesn’t help me with what to do while I’m lost. Why does this happen?
A grammar website named it the “Censor” that resides in our brain. Little voices inside our head tell us that we have absolutely nothing worthwhile to say, nothing that we’ve experienced would be interesting enough for others to read. The Censor skillfully takes these voices and tears them down only to build them back up brick by brick until we have a wall so tall and so wide that we couldn’t possible find a way around it. Maybe the Censor was created because an English teacher told you that your poem was drivel in 7th grade, maybe an agent told you that what you were working on wasn’t politically correct or maybe you just had a traumatic potty training episode- it doesn’t matter why it’s in existence- it just is.
An American poet, William Stafford, states, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” WHAT?!? Are we supposed to create crap? Are we to be satisfied with the mediocre?
What the man is trying to tell us is that we need to lighten up. Stop taking ourselves so seriously. If you sit down with the sole intention of writing the best thriller, the most profound poem, the scariest horror novel, then you’re screwed. (Pardon my vulgarity-but it sums it up so succinctly.) Give yourself permission to write whatever flies from your fingertips. The point is to not write another great novel right off the bat, the point is to simply write. I highly doubt William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in a single take.
Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn) has a wonderful list of suggestions to push back the Censor creating Writer’s Block in your head.
- Rid yourself of the genius curse– everything that comes from our brain does not have to be brilliant!
- Don’t be married to results– most folks have to write pages and pages of “stuff” before something good bubbles to the top.
- Don’t compare yourself to other writers– your talents are unique. We don’t need another Stephen King, we need you!
- Remember rejection letters are made of paper– they can be disposed of quite easily.
- Write ahead of yourself– we’re all walled in by our own habits- break out!
- Cannibalize your older writing– don’t be afraid to chop your words, but keep them in a separate folder. There might be glimmers of brilliance.
- Break old habits of voice and style– if it’s stale to you, it will be stale to your readers.
- Break your assumptions– If you are writing a light hearted comedy and get stuck, bring in a killer and see what happens. You can always change tone in a revision.
- Write every single day– we all know this rule.
- Join or start a writing group– I get by with a little help from my friends.
- Combine all of these approaches– nuff said!