I’ve read far too many times from some authors that Writer’s block doesn’t exist. And I’ve even read from a few who stated that because there wasn’t a word for it before the 1900’s it can’t exist. You know, I’m sure there was a time when there wasn’t a word for “Fire” but that didn’t stop “it” from burning down forests after lightning struck.
Writer’s block exists. Let’s get that out in the open before we delve into how to totally crush the heck out of it. If you’ve ever been stuck, unable to write, or at a loss for words, you’ll want to read this.
Look in thy heart and write…
Writer’s Block History and Origin:
Although there hasn’t always been a specific catch phrase for what we now call “Writer’s Block,” it’s actually a well-documented phenomenon throughout the history of writing.
In fact, the poem, “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe, written in 1846, originated because Poe was suffering from an inability to write at the time. Poe complained the bells ringing in the street outside were bothering him, so it was suggested that he write a poem about the bells and he did just that. (Credit: Edgar Allan Poe: A Biography By Milton Meltzer.)
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: “Fool!” said my muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”
By Philip Sidney, describing writer’s block in Astrophel and Stella composed sometime in the 1580’s. (Quote credit: Goodreads.)
I’ve researched quite a bit about writer’s block and although many websites list origin dates for the term, ranging from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, none of the dates I found on those sites were accurate.
However, a book finally solved the date-of-origin mystery, “Writer’s Block” the actual phrase was coined by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in 1947. (Credit: Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis By Salman Akhtar.)
Every writer I know has trouble writing.
– Joseph Heller (Tweet this)
Writer’s block or something else?
To all the writers in the world who have been so fortunate to evade writer’s block, good for you, congratulations!
But let me say this, just because you might not need glasses to read doesn’t mean I can take mine off and never use them again. Besides, I find your claim quite peculiar, because I’ve never met a human being so perfect s/he’s never gotten stuck, ever.
Maybe you don’t call it writer’s block. That’s okay. And for the rest of us that do call it writer’s block, well, you know what? That’s okay, too.
Sometimes you simply get stuck and stop writing for seemingly no reason at all. Sometimes the words don’t come as easy as they did before. There’s nothing wrong with that and if it happens to you, there’s nothing wrong with you. Getting stuck is a natural and absolutely normal part of being human.
You’re not weird because you’ve gotten stuck and admitting it doesn’t make you a freak or any lesser of a writer.
If you’ve suffered from writer’s block, well, that’s because…
You ARE a writer!
Writer’s block is an affirmation that you are a writer. Maybe it’s not an affirmation you want to repeat every day, but it’s an affirmation none the less.
Only non-writers can avoid writer’s block.
(Tweet this if you agree!)
I used to get writer’s block a lot and there were times when it lasted for years. Once, it lasted an entire decade! (True story. I share the story about how and why that happened in my forthcoming new book.)
I still get writer’s block, but not nearly as often. Thankfully, I’ve learned how to overcome it.
In this post I will share 9 actionable strategies you can start using now, and I’ll reveal the rest of my secrets in my upcoming book.
To help me overcome writer’s block, I’ve come up with a phrase that more honestly depicts the most dreadful part of the condition for me and I want to share that with you today.
Different kinds of writer’s block
Writer’s block certainly exists; in fact, there are many types of writer’s block:
- You’ve run out of ideas. You’re drawing a blank because you need to do research, brainstorm or ask for help.
- You simply need a break. You’ve been writing nonstop for days, weeks or months (or mere minutes) and you really need down time, but you refuse to admit it so your brain shuts down on its own and won’t restart until it’s ready. Try to jump start it all you want, but you’ll just get gibberish.
- Burn out. You don’t just need a break – you need a vacation to Tahiti! (Or Paris, which is where I prefer to go and it’s where my friend Joe Bunting from The Writer Practice is going soon. You can join him, if you like, sort of.)
- It’s not fun anymore. Sometimes we take the fun out of writing because we’re too hard on ourselves, or we become overly serious and stop writing altogether because our writing gets stale and feels too much like a hopeless chore to continue. If this sounds familiar, reflect on why you started writing and recapture your true, raw passion for writing.
There are many others. The one I want to talk about today is the worst block of all, because it’s the one that has proven to be my most formidable nemesis:
D O U B T
Writer’s Doubt, that is!
I call it writer’s doubt because as writers we have the unique ability to see our worst fears and most degrading thoughts come alive in our writing. If they don’t present themselves in our writing they block us from writing by constantly interrupting us as we are typing, saying things like:
“You know that isn’t any good. It sucks. Admit it.”
“Do you think you’re an expert or something? Who are you trying to fool? Yourself? It’s working.”
“Your readers are going to see straight through you – oh, wait, what readers? Ha! As if! Get a life.”
The good news is that writer’s doubt can be overcome.
I’ve written a book about Writer’s Doubt, detailing how I’ve learned to overcome it and how you can, too. I’ve been working on the book for three years and it is the most ambitious and audacious work I’ve done to date. Consider reading it.
9 Tips On How To CRUSH Writer’s Block
1. Admit you get stuck from time to time.
If you’re one of those who does not believe writer’s block exists, or you have another name for it, that’s cool, but I am sure you’re reading this for a reason. The first step to overcoming anything is admitting that it’s an issue. Some might believe denial is the best course of action; however, in reality this only prolongs the time in which you’re stuck.
You’re a writer and writers get stuck. So does everyone else in just about any endeavor. It’s normal, so lighten up and…
2. Admit that it’s okay to get stuck.
Really, it is. You’re human and not a machine. Most people would tell you to start writing gibberish and that will kick start your writing, and maybe that’s true, sometimes. But when it doesn’t work we just tend to get more frustrated and we sink deeper into the quicksand that is doubt.
It’s okay to get stuck and it’s probably just an indication you need to…
3. Take a break.
In a day job, breaks and lunches are mandatory for a reason. We all need to take breaks. Again, we are not machines, and yet, for some reason we writers tend to remain sitting in front of our computers without so much as a potty break for as long as we can hold it (okay, maybe that’s just me), even if we are doing no more than staring at a blank page.
Staring at the blank page or flipping through WebPages, isn’t usually going to inspire you to write any sooner. A break, on the other hand, might be what you need. I believe in many cases, writer’s block is a form of mental exhaustion, so go find something to do that doesn’t require serious thinking.
4. Don’t self-deprecate!
In your frustration do not start cursing yourself for not writing. You know what I am talking about. Putting extra pressure on ourselves in the form of self-deprecation won’t help. The best writers are usually confident writers, so putting yourself down for being stuck won’t help the way you hope it will. Oh, it might help once or twice, but that’s a trick doubt plays on us.
By believing deprecation works we’ll find ourselves doing it again and again, and eventually we’ll start to believe what we are saying and that’s when you really get stuck. I’m talking 20-feet-in-quicksand stuck.
5. Know that you’re better than you think you are.
Being stuck in writer’s block doesn’t take anything away from your ability to write work that matters. So reinforce your confidence with truth, and affirm that: You Are A Writer and Your Words Make A Difference (they really do and that’s why we need them.)
6. Don’t describe yourself as a suffering artist.
Don’t ever call yourself such a thing. When you write you are creating, and that’s M A G I C A L. If you want to crush writer’s block, take control of your internal turmoil and get a firm grip on your fears and doubts. The only way to do that is to stop giving your fears and doubts control by becoming confident and self-assured.
Think about it, the role fear and doubt plays in our lives is that of stealing our confidence, so don’t let them. Don’t fall for the belief that you need to drink alcohol, overeat, or think less of yourself so that you can write. You don’t need to do any of those things to create work that matters, but fear and doubt can make you believe otherwise.
7. Be audacious.
Whatever you’re afraid of writing, write it. In my experience when I hold back I get stuck. Don’t hold back. You can’t make a difference or create work that matters if you’re not willing to say what you want to say. Say it. Say it with confidence.
Think about it, if you’re trying to tip toe around the truth then you’re not really saying what matters to you. Keep in mind it is not always necessary to share all of your work, but at least write it out for yourself if for no one else.
8. Accept discouragement as part of the writer’s life, but do not give in to despair.
All of us get discouraged. ALL OF US. It’s a natural and normal part of life and it will pass.
However, for writers it is too easy for discouragement to turn into despair. One of the reasons for this is that we sit for long periods of time alone with our thoughts. Alone with our thoughts anything can happen, especially when we are stuck and do not realize our negative thoughts are running amok.
The best way to crush writer’s block is to never give in to despair and never give up on writing.
If you realize you are starting to feel overly discouraged consider talking about it with someone who understands what you are going through, such as with a trusted friend, coach, or mentor.
Also consider writing in a personal journal about how you feel. This might seem like odd advice, but you may find that you can write in a personal journal even while in the midst of writer’s block. Writing in a journal for one’s self can be cathartic, revealing, and liberating.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote about the bells because a trusted friend suggested it and she even improvised the opening line to help get him started. The bells outside were what was bothering him, talking to a trusted friend and writing about the bells was how he overcame writer’s block.
9. Accept yourself (and your writing) as you are right now.
There’s plenty of room for all of us to improve and become better writers, but the problem comes when we get caught up in the never-ending cycle of self-improvement, and we hold back our best work. Some of us believe our work is not good enough until we reach a certain milestone, but more often than not, we don’t have a clue what that milestone is.
All of us should strive to become better writers, but if you’re using that as an excuse not to ship your best work now, you might never ship. Whatever your best work is right now, there will come a time when you will look back on it and realize you could have done better and you might tell yourself you should have waited. Don’t fall into that trap.
All (wise) authors know they could have done better. (Tweet)
That’s part of writing and constantly moving forward. It takes great emotional effort to publish our best work now.
Bonus tip: S i l e n c e
When words don’t come easy, I make do with silence and find something in nothing.
– Strider Marcus Jones
We all need time to pause, to reflect and in some cases, to be audacious.
The secret is not giving in to frustration and admitting to yourself what it is you really need when you’re stuck. Simply ask yourself what you need, and if you’re calm and quiet for a moment or two, I’m sure you’ll come up with the answer.
I’ve heard many writers state that after they’ve suffered from writer’s block and began to write again, they found that they had somehow made a quantum leap forward with their writing! I’ve experienced this, too. Writer’s block can be a positive indication you’re about to have a massive breakthrough.
Have you ever been stuck? Share your experience in the comments.