By definition, writer’s block is the temporary or lasting inability to put words on the page. It hits every writer at some time, even if for a few hours; however, it can extend into days or weeks. If the writer gets into a pattern or spiral, writer’s block can last for extended periods, even years. It’s the horrible feeling of staring at a blank page or screen and saying, “I got nothing.” All creatives experience writer’s block in some form or other.
Does this sound familiar? You wake, shower, dress, get yourself a cup of coffee in your favorite mug, sit down at your desk, start up your computer, your hands hover above the keys, your mind races, you see the word “DEADLINE” in bold red blinking neon floating before your eyes, you lower your fingers to the keys and…nothing.
Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nyet. Niente. Meiyou. Nichego.
Your fingers are like unstrung marionettes; they lay dormant on the keys, no words are moving from your mind to your muscles, nothing is working, you’re not writing, you’re staring into the void of a blank screen, you’re sure this is it, you’re done, you will never produce another sentence again.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to writer’s block. Let’s have a big hand for this monstrous nightmare.
What is Writer’s Block?
By definition, writer’s block is the temporary or lasting inability to put words on the page. It hits every writer at some time, even if for a few hours; however, it can extend into days or weeks. If the writer gets into a pattern or spiral, writer’s block can last for extended periods, even years.
This situation becomes a serious problem when the writer is no longer meeting targets, hitting deadlines, and then the writer gets into a funk and feels they can no longer produce any work at all.
It’s the horrible feeling of staring at a blank page or screen and saying, “I got nothing.”
All creatives experience writer’s block in some form or other.
Why Do Writers Get Blocked?
If the answer to this question were easy, there would be a pill to pop, and writers would never get blocked. Sadly, there is no single answer as the blockage varies from writer to writer and even varies within the same writer. Some of the leading causes for the blocking are;
Too Few Ideas
Nothing is going on in the ole noodle; you're calling down the corridors of your mind for ideas, thoughts, opening lines, and it’s just your sad, panicked voice echoing back.
Too Many Ideas
To some, this would seem a great problem to have, a bevy of ideas waiting to be birthed from the medulla to the page. Nope, this is a terrifying thought. It’s like going to a buffet filled with every single one of your favorite foods and being told you can only select one. Suddenly you're faced with FOMO, not knowing which is best, which will sustain you, and on and on. So too many choices can be as disruptive to the creative flow as too few choices.
Too Much Noise
This doesn’t mean your upstairs neighbors are practicing for ClogFest or that your roomie, Chad, got a new electric guitar, and he truly believes he’s Hendrix. The noise we speak of here is other projects, family responsibilities, daily chores, dinner plans, etc. The noise is in your head saying, get this done now, fast because you have these seven million other things that are due, past due, and need your attention right now.
You know what you have to write about, what you want to write about, but you suddenly feel that you won’t do it justice. How dare you undertake this writing project? You know nothing, and you’ll make a complete hash of it. And not a good hash with beef and potatoes, maybe peas if they’re fresh at the farmers market. So you start to fear writing poorly before you’ve even written a single word.
Your Perfectionism is Killing you, One Word at a Time
Sometimes your perfectionism is a good friend, like when you use the correct there, their, or they’re; your perfectionism keeps your writing crisp and tight and your voice clear and unique. However, there are times when your perfectionism has shackled you to the first three sentences of your project, and you cannot get by them. You simply edit and edit and edit, and you get nowhere.
The Internal Editor
This nefarious bastard is always there, always lurking, waiting for his chance to pummel you down and suck every ounce of creativity out of you. This is the voice that says, you suck, you can’t write, you’ve lost the ability to fashion even so much as a frickin’ predicate. It’s a haunting, nasty voice that you’re sure the neighbors can hear bitching at you but, trust us; it’s safely locked in your head, shrieking at you alone, like a private Bjork concert on acid, with special guest Yoko Ono.
Why Bother? I’ll Never be Heminway
Ah, the old compare yourself to a famous published writer routine. This is a sure-fire way never to have a relationship with your keyboard ever again. Sure, you’ll never be Hemingway because he already filled that position. There is only one, and he got there first. So, why bother, right? Remember, if you’re in this particular writer’s hell, that Hemingway was just Earny the drunk fisherman before he put fingers to keys and wove the saga of an old man, a fish, and a shark. Nope, you’ll never be Hemingway, so move on.
Here’s a popular bit of blockage that some writers use. I’m just going to get rejected anyway, so why bother giving them something to reject: good thinkin’ there, Melville. If you don’t write anything, it can’t be rejected. Thing is, if you’re not writing, then you can no longer put ‘writer’ on your taxes. Yup, rejection is there, always; it comes with every Doordash order or coupon. Rejection will happen. How you deal with it defines you as a writer.
Distractions & Excuses
Writers have deep pockets, and though they are not usually filled with money, they do contain a plethora of excuses. My favorite pen is on vacation. The table in the coffee shop where I wrote the best sentence known to man is being used by the local dairy counsel for a cheese auction. The room with the best light has the shades pulled. I promised my girlfriend I wouldn’t use the word ‘we’ unless she was in the same room as me. And on and on ad infinitum.
Distractions are equally nefarious. There’s a great movie on TV. I know there is a box of crackers in the cupboard, which is not only tasty, they are also doing a full production of La Traviata by the sink. The dog needs to be walked. But first I have to buy a dog. And the biggest distraction to our writing lives; SOCIAL MEDIA.
That’s just a handful of reasons why writers get blocked. And, any writer worth their salt can give you ten thousand more at the drop of a hat. Some are real, some are imagined, and some are just bull goose loony. But, at the moment, when the words aren’t flowing, and your mind feels like an octogenarian's bowels after a Mexican dinner, these are terrifying moments when the writer feels they are done and will never write again.
So, What Do You Do?
Some people will say just sit down and write. That’s actually not a bad bit of advice, and we’ll get there in a moment. However, that does seem a tad counterintuitive. If I could write, I wouldn’t be blocked, right? Well, yes and no. As many reasons as there are for the blockage, there are equally as many ways to move through the block. Here are some of our very favorites.
Employ the Pomodoro Method
Francesco Cirillo, the creator of this method, posited that people are creative for only twenty-five-minute bursts. He suggests you get a timer, set it for twenty-five minutes, and power through. Stay with it and push yourself for that short amount of time and then give yourself a well-deserved break. But why is it called the Pomodoro method? Well, it’s called this because Francesco used a tomato-shaped timer to clock his twenty-five minutes. And, as Francesco is Italian, the Italian word for tomato is Pomodoro.
Build the Habit
The best way to get past writer’s block is to sit and write. So, it helps when you make the time. Put it on the calendar every day. Set that time up and commit to it. Every day at five a.m., sit and write one page. Eventually, that is built into your system, and your kinesthetic memory will be there to tell you, hey, now is the time we write. Now, it doesn’t have to be at five in the morning, but it should be at the same time, the same channel every day. And, give yourself one day off for good measure.
Try a Prompt
It may not be what you’re writing about; however, when the gears are jammed, getting a little prompting might do the trick. Start your writing time with a prompt from a book or a magazine and write on it for twenty-five minutes. It doesn't matter if you're writing a book about the Cross-Dressing Habits of U.S. Grant; write about the humble star-nosed mole for twenty-five minutes and get the goo out of the gears. A prompt is a great way just to get the physical action of fingers to keys to words on the page started.
Break Your Confines
Shake it up if you have a writing desk or a writing room; move away. Write in your kitchen; write in the tub with a board across the tub for your machine. Go to a coffee shop, ignore the whole cliche, and just try writing there for a moment.
Also, mix it up with the method of writing. If you’re a die-hard Mac user, drop it and pick up a pen. Try using a handheld recorder and take a walk while talking your day’s writing into that little gizmo.
If you write in the morning, try writing at night. If you’re a nocturnal writer, rise with the sun and see what that’s all about. Just try something new until you get your feet under you and the words flow again. Then you can go back to the five A.M. scribe.
Do Not Edit
Just write. Pen to page or phalanges to keys. Don’t think about it, don’t edit it, just let the words happen. Sure, you may have a Jack Nicholson moment from The Shining, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy, but as long as you’re just putting words down, the mechanical act of getting words down can often shake you from the blockage. So, just write, don’t think, don’t edit, and don’t even keep it if it’s just garble, but at the moment, just write.
Release the Subconscious
Sometimes what you need to do is walk away. Don’t think about it. Don’t even think about the story or a line or a sentence. Just leave it alone and do something else. Take a walk, rake some leaves, and work on the car. Taking a shower is helpful; many writers, including the one creating this sentence, find that some great ideas just arrive in the shower.
But, sometimes, when you’re concentrating so hard, desperate to find the right word, looking away or looking beside it helps the subconscious say, step aside, I’ll take it from here, and miracles happen.
Believe it or not, but you're becoming physically exhausted all the time you glare at the page and silently curse yourself. That physical exhaustion is not helping your mental faculties, and thus you’re experiencing diminishing returns. Take a cue from your cat, curl up in the sun, and snooze. While you sleep, your body replenishes itself, and, who knows, your subconscious may take you for a jaunt in your dreams, and you’ll awake refreshed and inspired.
Be Kind to Yourself
You know the best way to ensure you’ll never, ever write again? Sit at your desk and, in a deep, dark, maniacal voice, say to yourself. “Write, damn it. Write you stupid failure. Write. You call yourself a writer? You’re a failure. You’re nothing. You’re pathetic. You suck.” That’ll do it. One session of that kind of madness, and you can just turn your study into Ye Olde Soda and Veterinary Shoppe, cause sister; you will never write again.
The creative process is delicate, and you have to understand you’re asking a lot of yourself. Sitting down and creating for a few hours, every day?? That’s crazy. No one can do that. And yet, you do. So, be kind to yourself. You wrote one page, one sentence today, man, that is exciting. Treat yourself well. Have a nice bourbon. Watch a good movie, have a fine meal. Whatever you need to do to pat yourself on the back and celebrate the creative achievement of the day.
All Creatives Face the Block
Although we are focusing on the genus “sciptor” in this article, many creative species also face the block. Painters, designers, poets, dancers, actors, singers, sculptors, et al., face the days, weeks, months where nothing is happening. Where the blank canvas, once a field of infinite possibility, is now a threatening wall of doom. Every creative on the planet has at one time or another been faced with this seemingly insurmountable fate. And, for the most part, every single one of them has overcome it and produced.
Don't focus on the block; focus on creation. Don’t panic or think this is the end. Don't fall into imposter syndrome. Love yourself, trust yourself, and know you will get through.
ThoughtLab has Writers
If you have copy or content that needs writing, but the evil block has taken hold, talk to us at ThoughtLab. We are creative content and copywriters with experience in fighting the block. We can prompt you back into work, or we can take your burden on our shoulders and write beautiful copy, compelling content.
Whatever your writing needs, contact ThoughtLab today and let us do the work for you.