You know those days, where you sit down to a blank page and everything is going right?
Every sentence feels plucked down perfectly from the ether—those writers that you thought were bullshitting when they said: “Oh, the story came to me from somewhere else, as though it were a gift—I was just the medium,” you feel like you know *exactly* what they’re talking about!
It WASN’T bullshit! Your characters are realizing themselves perfectly, and not even one of them is being a brat—you’re not even making any typos! You’ve got a pot of coffee and every song that comes on Spotify is the *perfect* writing song… and before you even realize it, you’ve pounded out 50 pages of your best work and forgot to shower! You love those days, right? They make you feel like you’re DOING THE DAMN THING, that you’re a REAL, LEGIT WRITER, and you’re doing what you were put on this planet to do!
This is NOT one of those days, friend.
This blog post is about the days where you sit down to the blank page and have a Jack Torrance moment:
Those days where you want to punch every successful writer in the face for making it look so easy. The days where your characters suck and they’re not doing what you tell them to do. When you realize you latest story reads like an episode of CSI. And not even the Vegas one. Like CSI: Miami.
How bad are your puns? Do you like The Who?
Where you’re one pair of Raybans and a Ginger Murder Machine away from throwing your laptop out the window and quitting—you suck at this! What’s the point?
We don’t think Best Buy is going to cover that.
…I mean, you don’t even have any coffee. You know what you have?
So…what IS writer’s block? Why do we get it? Most importantly, how do we make it go away?
There are a lot of reasons a writer might encounter writer’s block.
1. You’re Bored.
You may be “playing it safe” with your characters or narrative—and because you’re staying inside your comfort zone, you’re bored. Remember, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”—Robert Frost.
Solution Suggestion: On a small slip of paper, write down 10 unusual objects. Write down 10 things that make you uncomfortable. Write down 10 things that scare you. Write down 5 things that comfort you. Put all these things in a jar. Cover it and shake it up. Pull three out and work them into your narrative. Repeat as necessary.
2. You’re stressed or distracted.
Solution Suggestion: Pinpoint the source of the stress or distraction. If it’s because of external demands on you, clear a few things from your plate, delegate some tasks, and see if not having a looming responsibility helps you to focus. Have kids? Ask a partner, friend, loved one, or trusted babysitter to give you an afternoon on your own. (We know that’s a task in & of itself!) Distracted? Take a walk to clear your mind, or go for a drive. Take a nap. Meditate, or take a 15-minute yoga break. Write in the same place every day? Shake up your writing routine and take your laptop or tablet somewhere new. Have a snack. Play with your kids or your pet for a while. It’ amazing what will come to you once you take the “I must write!” pressure off yourself.
3. You’re scared.
But what if…they hate it? I’m no good? They laugh at my soul laid bare on the page?
Solution Suggestion: Somebody probably WILL hate it.But that somebody doesn’t have to be you. The only way to get a better draft of your work is to finish the FIRST draft of it. If it was easy, everyone would do it. No one ever promised that being a writer would always be fun—like anything else that’s a skill, a craft and an art, it’s partly the gifts you’re born with, partly the tricks and tools you pick up along the way, and partly the sheer drive to do this one thing and do it well. In the words of Ovid, “Love and fortune favor the brave.” Or, if you prefer, take your cue from Sugar at The Rumpus: “Write like a motherfucker.” Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written. Your first publication doesn’t have to be the peak of your career, either. Neither does your first chapbook, your first novel, or your first collection. Or your 5th. 15th. Every day you complete something, you get better at what you do. So stop being so afraid, and start being the writer you know that you are in your heart.
Remember, writer’s block is going to happen. But it doesn’t need to define you or destroy you. The next time you look down at your pages and say,
Take a moment to pause, and look around:
Because once you give yourself some space, shake things up a little bit, and keep at it, your moment of writer’s block could become the crossroads of your work, where suddenly you realized EXACTLY what you needed to do. And that, my friend, is why we write through it, right?
For more article on writer’s block and solutions to combat it, check out iO9, Chuck Wending’s Terrible Minds blog, or tips from the OWL Lab at the Purdue Writing Center: