Do you know what causes writers block?
When you can’t (or won’t) write, the obsessive question of the day, hour, and minute becomes, “Why not? Why can’t I write?” even though a much more useful question is, “How do I get started again?”
You want to know why though, even if the answer doesn’t help. Why is this happening to you, specifically, instead of some other writer? You suspect the fact that writer’s block has hit you personally is secret proof that you stink as a writer, and guess what?
Writer’s block, that maddening condition that leaves even experienced writers seemingly unable to write their own names, does have certain predictable causes, and each of these causes can be effectively addressed and eliminated.
Writer’s block hits everyone from time to time, but it doesn’t have to be a problem. Some writers don’t even believe in ‘writer’s block’.
Here are a few of the most common causes of writer’s block along with tips on how to work around each of them. Make each ‘fix’ a habit, and your ‘blocks’ will vanish:
- You’re not ready to put words on paper yet. Lots of writers have cycles of furious activity followed by seemingly fallow periods during which ideas ‘gestate’. Writing is a creative process. In the same way that the process of creating living creatures requires pregnancy before birth can happen, creating works of literature often involves down time during which ideas grow. Just because you aren’t physically writing doesn’t mean you aren’t creating at a deeper level. If you feel the urge to write but nothing comes out when you sit down, try going for a long walk by yourself. Don’t take your iPod, just walk. The words will come. Repeat as necessary.
- Your tendency to self-edit has gotten the upper hand. Lots of writers obsess about every comma and verb. Aggressive editing is not necessarily a bad thing, but if your internal editing process starts after your first three words hit the page then you are going to shut yourself down fast. Try free writing; a technique in which you write whatever comes into your head without stopping for a set amount of time. Start with five minutes. Set a timer and don’t stop until you hear the ‘Ding!’ Repeat as necessary.
- You just got something published and you’re convinced you’re out of good ideas. This is remarkably common. The truth is, words are an inexhaustible resource: you literally can’t run out of them. If you are feeling frozen after a small success, try writing something in a difference genre. If you recently published a short story, write an essay. If you published some poetry, write a review. Keep writing until your fear of success evaporates. It will.
- You think you are doing it wrong. First of all, you can’t do it wrong. Some writers are able to knock out a great personal essay in a draft or two; others will rewrite something twelve different ways before declaring the piece finished. If you don’t know what the first paragraph should be, skip it and start in the middle. Chances are excellent that as you write, the structure of the piece will emerge independent of your efforts, and you’ll be able to release your anxiety. Stop comparing yourself to other writers. You write the way you write; they write the way they write.
Writer’s block is, in many ways, a psychosomatic condition. Usually it is caused by anxiety and/or an inability to accept your own process and support yourself with positive self-talk and good work habits.
It’s all too easy to let negative inner dialog take over and then just give up. You have to actively counter that internal nagging:
Don’t say, “I’m blocked.”
Say, “I feel a really great idea coming. I can hardly wait to get started.”
Don’t say, “I can’t write.”
Say, “My creative process is cyclical. I think I’ll do some free writing just for fun and see what emerges.”
Don’t say, “I’ll never write anything good again.”
Say, “That felt great. I think I’ll try something completely different this time.
Conquering ‘writer’s block’ is not difficult but you have to make the effort. Cultivate a respectful acceptance of your own creative process, a willingness to forge some good work habits, and the ability to talk yourself up while silencing your inner critic.
Take those three tips to heart and soon you’ll be saying, “Writer’s block? What’s writer’s block?”
For more tips and tricks at avoiding writer's block visit The Creative Writer's Desk Writer's Block Page.
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