Is this you?
You set aside time to work on that book you’ve been meaning to write. You close all the windows of your social media accounts, turn off the TV, put your glasses on, sit down at your keyboard to write, and—and you can’t seem to come up with the first sentence!
And now you’ve fallen for the myth that is “writer’s block.”
Is writer’s block real?
No, it isn’t. I’m changing the paradigm of writer’s block. If you can change your focus and picture writer’s block as an artificial, made-up notion and not a real condition, you’ll begin to see the fallacy in thinking that it’s real.
The definition of writer’s block is “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.”
But I would contend that it’s an excuse a writer came up with long ago because he didn’t get anything meaningful written.
Let’s assume that’s the case. A writer, at some point in the past (or maybe the writer’s therapist?) coined the term “writer’s block” to give the writer a term to “hang his hat on.”
Let’s back the truck up.
Naming it “writer’s block” doesn’t explain it. And it won’t cure it.
If writer’s block is a myth, what is the underlying cause of his —and your — inability to write?
I will give you five possible reasons as to why you may have trouble writing. And finally, why labelling it “writer’s block” is an unhelpful excuse.
Five reasons to rethink writer’s block
(1) You’re not able to think of anything to write about.
My solution to this is to keep what I call a “dump file.” Mine is a Google doc that I can access with either my phone or my laptop. It’s filled with snippets of phrases and unformed ideas that I just “dump” into the document. I have a section for poetry and one for prose like articles, blog posts, and book chapters. When I get an idea for a post or maybe a line or two that might work well in a poem, even if it’s only a snippet, I add it to the appropriate dump file. When I’m ready to write, I sit down and read my dump file any time I need a new topic to write about. There’s always an idea in it that’ll spark my interest.
(2) The subject is boring.
It’s hard to write about something that doesn’t hold your interest. Instead of fretting about the lack of output and calling it writer’s block, you could name it properly and call it “boredom block.” Then approach it with a new strategy. If you’re required to write about a subject that doesn’t hold your interest, do some research first by Googling the subject and adding the word “interesting.” For example, I Googled “United States Monetary System interesting.” About five entries down, an article popped up with the title “30 Interesting Facts About the U.S. Dollar.”1
If I hadn’t included the word “interesting,” I never would have learned these fascinating facts:
• About 90% of banknotes test positive for cocaine residue.
• If you need to trace a banknote by its serial number, then you should know that there is a site called “Where’s George?”
• Counterfeit dollars are often detected because they’re usually more perfect than genuine bills.
• Americans throw away about $62M worth of coins yearly.
You may or may not be able to use those facts in your written piece, but it did make the subject more interesting and probably stimulated ideas. On the other hand, maybe you can find a place to include one or two of these interesting facts. Approaching it as a puzzle to solve can make the article more interesting to write as well as more interesting to read.
Claiming that writer’s block stopped you from finishing (or starting) your book is an excuse. Try changing your writing practices instead
Our fictional writer who came up with the term “writer’s block” may have mislabeled what is more accurately called the “inner critic.” We all have the voice in our head that gives us “advice.” It’s the voice that says things like, “That was a trite comparison.” “Your writing style is outdated.” Or even something more discouraging like, “What makes you think you could ever be an author?”
Fortunately, there are certain times of the day when that inner voice is less inclined to stop you in your tracks. What time is that? We all have different inner biological clocks—some of us are night owls and some are early birds.
If you’re a night owl, it’s very possible that your inner critic hits the hay at 10 pm, and your best time for writing is 10:01 pm or later. If you’re an early bird, you can leave that pesky critic in bed asleep while you get up at 4 am and, like me, knock out a few hundred words.
Don’t call it “writer’s block” when your inner critic is discouraging you.
Close your eyes and type or write out what you’re thinking.
When you close your eyes, you won’t be able to look at what you’ve just written. It’s on paper or in the file you’re working in, and you can’t go back and change one word right now.
You can get a lot of writing done this way, and at some point — maybe tomorrow — you can go back and correct your typos and other mistakes. And maybe you’ll see that what you’ve written isn’t half bad.
I just typed the above three paragraphs with my eyes closed and I actually made fewer typos than I usually do, so I know it works. There’s something about typing with your eyes closed that keeps your train of thought moving forward so you can get more written. Try it.
If necessary, learn to touch type. It’s a skill that comes in handy if you’re going to be a successful writer.
Frank James published an informative video on YouTube about “perfectionist paralysis,” which is a problem that plagues certain personality types more severely than others.
Perfectionist paralysis is the closest thing to writer’s block I can think of. It may have been the reason the term “writer’s block” was first coined. However, as Frank discusses in his video, perfectionist paralysis isn’t limited to writing. It runs the gamut in a person’s life, from creative endeavors to career choices to relationships. it works like this: the idea is so beautiful—so perfect—that it can never be achieved in real life. Deep down, this is understood and prevents the person from even taking the first step.
For example, you might want a job at a particular company. You view it as the perfect job at the perfect place to work. But you never apply for the position because you’re afraid you won’t get it. Holding on to that dream job in your mind is better than having your dream crushed.
In relationships, this can mean you don’t take the first step in getting to know someone because you think the person will never live up to the ideal image you have in your mind. Or you bail on a relationship because some cracks of imperfection start to form.
This dysfunctional way of approaching life needs a solution that covers all aspects of life, not just writing. If you see yourself in this description, acknowledge it and get some help.
Notwithstanding the possible need for therapy, the solution to this is obvious.
Take the first step.
Our fictional writer needs to accept the fact that the first step is going to be nothing like the perfect idea he has in his head. That it may, in fact, be awful.
If you have this problem, here’s the important part—don’t let that deter you.
In his video, Frank quotes writer Sam Beckett, who included these lines in a story he wrote about trying and failing: “Try and fail. Try again. Fail better.”
When you keep trying and failing, you are a hero in your own story. Someday you’ll write that story, and it may not be perfect, but it won’t be as awful as you suspect. As you keep trying, eventually you’ll write something that’s good—short of the perfect image in your mind, however—but good. Other people will read it and be touched by it.
And that’s the true definition of success.
(5) Your body needs something
Some people say you should just “take a break” to cure writer’s block.
However, what if there’s no such thing as writer’s block? And the advice to “take a break” is just another form of your mom telling you to “come eat dinner”? Or “go outside and get some sunshine”?
You can’t sit at a desk trying to force yourself to write when your body needs something else — food, exercise, sunshine, conversation with friends, etc. Do the other thing, then when you’re ready, sit down and write. It doesn’t have to be Shakespearean prose. You can make improvements at a later time.
Don’t fall for the myth of writer’s block.
Some people advise you not to beat yourself up, but think about it. If you’re using the excuse of writer’s block, you’re beating yourself up over something that isn’t real. Instead of getting caught up in this self-diagnosed fictional condition that’s putting you into a spiral of paralysis and defeat, identify the real reason you aren’t able to write.
Whatever it is that’s paralyzing or distracting you, discover what it is and take action to resolve it.
That’s the REAL solution.
If you need additional help, check out our services page — perhaps Coaching to Completion is just what you need!
A Bonus Tip: God’s role in the writing journey.
I’ve found only one tried-and-true method for overcoming my deficiencies in skill and perseverance to create something worthwhile. I let God “fill in the gaps.” In 1 Corinthinians 12:9, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Every day, I pray and ask God to make my weaknesses shine through His strength.
And then I see miracles. Miracles in my ability to write and miracles in what I write. If you’ve been struggling in your writing journey, give prayer a try!