It happens to all of us sometime in our writing life, we come down with writer’s block. Fortunately, we don’t have to suffer from this common affliction for long. Here are several remedies you can administer to bring about a rapid recovery and get you writing.
First, What is Writer’s Block and what is the cause of it?
Writer’s block is paralysis. It can feel like we have nothing to say, like we are empty inside, and all the music in us has gone silent. We are unimaginative. We wonder if we have even a single creative cell in our body. Fortunately, writer’s block isn’t real. It’s not something we can contract. It is, however, something we give to ourselves.
There are many causes, but the most common is fear. Fear has many disguises and can be difficult to diagnose. We may suffer from fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of having nothing to say, fear of saying too much, even fear of success.
Whatever it is, fear arrests our ability to write. I once met a writer once at a workshop who was just awarded a Tony for his recent play. He confided to me that, since winning this prize, he could no longer write. He told me he was afraid he wouldn’t write anything as good as what he’d already written.
Unchecked, fear is lethal to our creative work. Therefore, it’s important to identify what you fear about writing. And if fear isn’t stopping you, what is? Whatever it is, acknowledge it, then write anyway. My own experience is: the pain from not writing is worse than the pain of writing through fear.
The thing about fear is: it’s weak. Fear shrinks when confronted. Fear of writing diminishes through the act of writing. So, with this in mind, here are some ways to get you writing, thus effectively curing your Writer’s Block.
1. Write Anything
It doesn’t matter how you start. Just throw words on the page. People sit with their pen poised over the page ruminating over how to begin. They start and discard dozens of perfectly decent beginnings because they deem them to be deficient or defective. Instead of continuing to write, they sit, getting more frustrated and stuck. Once your hand is moving, keep going. Even by writing, “I don’t have anything to write. I’m sitting here and nothing is happening. I don’t want to do this. I feel stupid,” you’re overcoming paralysis. You are writing. Keep writing, typing, recording your observations. You may fill a page with ‘nothing’, but it is something. You might even forget you weren’t able to write.
2. Break the Silence of The Page
Silence is an actual physical obstacle. A blank sheet of paper, a cursor taunting you, the infinite possibilities yawning at you, can stop you before you start. Where do I begin?
Start by breaking the silence of the page. Get some ink singing on the clean sheet. Now there is no longer silence, or emptiness. You’ve begun to describe the space. Someone, something is speaking. One word begins it.
I have a list of prompts for when I don’t know how to begin (click here to view/download).
Once I’ve broken the silence, the obstacle crumbles.
From the other side, silence doesn’t appear insurmountable like it did before I began. Remember, what you write in order to begin can disappear from the later work. The first words you enter are only the ramp up to the freeway. They help get you up to speed so you can hit the travel lanes.
3. Have Writing Mantras
In addition to writing prompts, I keep a list of writing mantras on hand. And, I’m always developing more. Mantras are great cures for block. What’s a writing mantra? By definition, a mantra is a repeated word or phrase. Mantras often are used as an affirmation or prayer, to aid concentration, or focus your attention. I use phrases I find easy to write on. I first discovered a mantra while working on my first poetry collection, A Strange Catechism. The mantra was scaffolding I used to build many of the book’s poems. It only remains in one poem but was instrumental in nearly all.
What was the mantra? One the 1st day standing in the parking lot. As you can see this isn’t a prayer, or affirmation, though it served to alleviate my fear of beginning, and not having anything to say. What I did each day was substitute another number. For example, on the 468th day standing in the parking lot.
The thing about a good mantra is it allows writing to happen.
Here is another: Thank you for…: This mantra is a good mantra and has the added benefit of giving thanks for things in our life. The health benefits of gratitude are well documented. There is everything to write about and be thankful for. Write using this mantra for a week and it will awaken you to all that is good in your life. You may even discover writing is one of those good things. Your ability to write. The freedom you have to express yourself, your politics, your opinions. Not everyone in the world is free to do so.
4. Make Writing A Ritual
Show up for yourself, for your creative expression. Consistency is critical and will inoculate you against Writer’s Block. By making writing a ritual–ritual is a routine married to intention and attention–we develop body memory, muscle memory, and mentally positive experiences of writing. Carve out time to sit and write daily. Practice being with yourself in the creative moment. Feel this gift. If possible, write at the same time every day. The ritual prepares your mind for the proper attitude, the attitude conducive to creation. When you feel you’re coming down with Block, you are likely to draw on your many memories of successful writing days.
5. Play and Practice
Why is it athletes and musicians “practice” their respective crafts and “play” games and instruments but writers don’t think in these terms? Writers never say, I’m going to writing practice, or I’m going to play some poetry. Instead, we equate writing to bloodletting. Meanwhile, play and practice embrace flexibility, exercise, repetition as a way to improve performance. Play incorporates mistakes, allows for them. What’s more, play turns those mistakes into beauty and execution. If you what stops you from writing is fear of failing, change how you think about writing. Tell yourself, you’re just going to writing practice or you’re going to play-write.
6. Borrow and Steal
As I mentioned above, breaking the silence of the page is a critical first step in curing Writer’s Block. To get yourself going, steal if you must. Writers are thieves. There is a long literary tradition of thievery. I’m not talking about plagiarizing work, but “borrowing” a line here and there. An example, several poems in Joanna Klink’s collection, Raptus, employ lines written by other writers. She does, and you can. Just Remember to attribute the line to the writer. Absconding with a line or two relieves you of figuring out how to begin.
Give yourself permission to write. Anything. Everything. No one has to see what you write, but you do need to write. Why? Because language and story and poetry is how you express yourself to the world. Allow your anger, sadness, joy, silliness ring out of you. Fear be damned. What others say or feel about what you write, be damned. Writer’s Block isn’t a real affliction. Fear is real. Silence is real. Give yourself permission to write through these, despite these, beyond these, and you will never experience Writer’s Block again.