Writer’s Block: Figment or Fact?
We rarely speak of “doing the dishes block,” yet even professional writers complain of this malady called “Writer’s Block.” What if you told your boss, “Oh, I have attending-meetings-with-management block.” Is writer’s block just an excuse for laziness or procrastination?
When you do the dishes, you grab the nearest plate and start scrubbing. But the writer has to grab at phantoms within, wrestle with ideas and words, delve deep into the mind’s recesses to land a fish that the world will measure and weigh. What is my idea? Who is going to read it? Will I be criticized for what I write? Will it sell? What have I done lately? Have I lost it? Did I ever have it?
The blocked writer’s mind is alive with imagination, all directed at the writer.
When writing comes easy, the soul and the fingers seem to be choreographed by a magical spell, with an ease like throwing a ball or feeding a hungry baby: a Muse. If you’ve experienced the golden inspiration of the Muse, you may want to wait and hold off on writing until you can duplicate that warm and wonderful experience. Which leads to Tip #1.
The Muse Ain’t Coming
Along with the Doing the Dishes Muse, the Writing Muse is busy frolicking. You are going to have to write this thing on your own. Accept the brutal facts: writing must proceed in the absence of pure and golden inspiration. The Muse may come later, or not, but you have to get started. Start. It may not be great writing, but it’s writing.
Writer’s Block is Often Another Problem
Is there something about your topic that is disturbing the heart/hand connection? Is your book on the history of scabs and scab-like skin problems among military leaders not exciting you? Is there research you haven’t done, or is it just a vague feeling that you haven’t figured out a strategy to explain an idea? The subject matter must be within your mastery. If you don’t have something to say, you will get writer’s block. So figure out if you are looking for for info or for an angle.
Is the Audience Someone You Dislike or Don’t Know?
If the future reader of your writing is someone you don’t like or trust, this will lead to Writer’s Block. Every good writer keeps before him or her a mental picture of the audience. The reader is a partner, the person who will understand your words. Who is your reader? If you dislike or fear your reader, the Muse will not touch you with a ten-foot pole. Strategy: Write it for someone else. Yes, you will turn the piece in to whomever, but write it for someone you like who is smart and likes you, too. That’s a reader worth writing to.
Is Something IMPORTANT Going to Happen When You Finish Writing?
Whether you are writing your doctoral thesis, a proposal for a big project, or the great American novel, is there is some consequence outside the writing itself? If so, your subconscious mind may be mugging the Muse behind some bushes. Is there an unknown element about what will happen if your work is accepted or rejected? Are you ready to leave graduate school? Are you prepared to work on the Big Project? Is your suit cleaned and pressed to appear on Oprah when your novel takes off? Separate the writing from its consequences and don’t become paralyzed with dread.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Great But It Does Have to Be Done
The perfect is the enemy of the good. Start writing as well as you can, be prepared to edit or accept editing, and let others worry about whether it’s any good. Did Fred Astaire worry about every dance step? Did Johnny Unitas think about the audience? No. If they did, they would choke, get stiff, fail. Repeat this to yourself: What other people think of my work is none of my business. You need to love it, feel it, write it — that’s your job. The reaction of the crowd is their lookout. Write for that smart person you like.
Writer’s Block Often is a Signal of Something Else
You and your subconscious mind need to figure out what what is causing Writer’s Block and your subconscious may not be talking. Freezing up, paralysis, excessive caution — these are appropriate reactions to fear of the unknown. So begin training your subconscious to see a bright treasure in that dark tunnel. When you finish a piece of writing and hand it in, don’t take yourself for granted. Do something as a reward. Do this every time. Train your subconscious mind like a dog. If it’s dinner out or a new toy, make it clear to yourself that a predictable and inevitable outcome of finishing the writing is an identified reward. Follow through and don’t let yourself down. Your subconscious mind will begin to catch on and start welcoming that Muse just to get to the treat.
You Can Beat Writer’s Block Like It Owes You Money
Every moment you can think about the competence, the professionalism and the beauty you want to express in your writing, you are beating Writer’s Block. Sit down and write for 15 minutes. Just start writing stuff. It doesn’t have to start out good, it just has to start. Treat it like doing the dishes. Do you ever ask yourself, “Is this the best dishwashing ever performed? I wonder what a crowd of people would think about my dishwashing? Hmm, is my life going to be the same when I finish these dishes?” Of course you don’t, you’re not a complete idiot.
When Writing Is Like Doing the Dishes You Are a Pro
Writing is just another kind of work. Yes, your heart and soul are on the line and they need to be. Just as your hands have to be in hot water to do the dishes. Put your heart into hot water, let your mind work hard, and keep that subconscious critter in you looking forward to the reward you have devised. Every minute you can apply the seat of your pants to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard are beating the living hell out of Writer’s Block. Go ahead and beat Writer’s Block like it owes you money. Because it probably does. And when that Muse comes back, and she will, give her my best and ask where the heck she’s been.
A short and inspiring book for writers: The Elements of Style
And here’s a terrific article on writer’s block I just found. Long and worth it.
People used to write on these monsters and they loved it.