Some writers I’ve followed claim there’s no such thing as writer’s block, that it’s just one of many excuses we make for not doing the work. I can agree that writing is a challenging and sometimes scary thing, and excuses are common. But I definitely see writer’s block as a thing.
But it’s a thing we can work through.
I’ve had my share of excuses, hangups, fear, and any other version of writer’s block you could rattle off. Points in my twenties they went on for so long I began to doubt it was even my calling. But I came upon the blogs of fellow writers discussing their own challenges — many the same as mine.
To understand the solution we need to quickly touch on one of the biggest causes of the block. Writers are usually perfectionists. Others I’ve worked with were occasionally confused why they could pound out 400-600 words in 30 minutes and it seemed to take me longer. “You’re the professional, after all,” they’d say.
But it was precisely this reason I agonized over each sentence. “They can write and if it’s not great, meh, it’s no mark against them because this isn’t what they do,” I told myself. “People are expecting more from me.” Maybe this makes sense to you, or maybe it’s just another silly excuse. But it was a hurdle.
No musician wants to waste time writing a crappy song. No artist wants to waste the paint on an embarrassing painting. We want everything we create to be epic, to be a showcase of our skills. But no one has the Midas touch, and we have to get past that notion to create. You’re not going to be proud of everything you create, but you don’t create something you’re proud of unless you keep going.
This analytical nature stops us in our tracks as we play editor to our thoughts, dismissing idea after idea for any number of reasons, until paralysis sets in.
One trick that made the difference for me was this:
Give yourself 30 minutes a day. 30 minutes where you will write, undisturbed and without stopping, literally anything that comes into your head. Don’t question your thoughts and don’t stop to correct typos. It won’t feel natural and you may have to force it.
This trains your brain to allow random ideas, to run with an inspiration for a moment, and not to be so critical. If you do this every day, it will get easier and easier to just write. You may even enjoy this mental dump. Even if it begins with something like:
“I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know why I can never just develop an idea and stick with it. Why is this so hard? That guy at work the other day pissed me off. Why do chocolate chips not just melt into the cookie as they bake?”
Sometimes it will be garbled nonsense, but you don’t have to show it to anyone so there’s no reason to feel embarrassed. Sometimes, though, you’ll get lucky and an idea will form partway through and you may end up with an article or blog post from at least part of the randomness that occurs. Either way, you’ve written something.
Alternately, you can use writing prompts for 30 minute exercises with the same idea. Start with the prompt and go for 30 minutes. Each session will lower that guard and make it easier to just start writing without a prompt.
Why does this help?
Sure, it works your creative muscle. Like anything the more times you do it the more natural it will feel. But more than that it teaches you to trust your instincts — to trust yourself as a writer.
You’ll begin to take topics and just start writing, to go with what you think in the moment and stop questioning each sentence so much. You can always tweak in the editing process, but that must come after creation. And you may find that you end up editing less than you’d expected.
I’ll leave you with this excellent quote from Becky Dickson:
“The worst thing you ever write is better than the best thing you never write.”