Writer’s block. We all know about it. It can seem like the writer’s worst enemy. That feeling when you’re staring at a blank screen and racking your mind to find the right opening sentence, or figure out what to say at all…
It’s frustrating—maddening at times.
And it happens to every writer. Often.
It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, writer’s block can appear as a leech that latches onto you, sucking the creativity right out of you at the most inopportune moments.
But you want to know what I think about writer’s block?
I think it’s a myth.
From what I’ve observed, both in my clients and myself, at its root, writer’s block is really about one of two things: confusion or fear. Sometimes it’s both.
Confusion stops us from writing because we feel unclear about what to say, or what to say first. We’ve got so much to share, and we’re not really sure of the best way to begin.
The problem with letting confusion stop you is that it puts you in a kind of purgatory–a painful cycle of waiting for clarity, which, as irony has it, can come only through the writing.
Fear stops us writers when we’re afraid that what we have to say won’t be good enough.
If you’re stymied by fear because you’re afraid what you write won’t be up to par, I have good news.
You’re right! It won’t be good enough! First drafts never are! So, there’s nothing to fear!
Few people realize just how terrible first drafts really are, and how many revisions it takes to get a piece of writing to the point where it’s presentable.
I try not to think about how many drafts I do of my blog posts. Even after I’ve published them, I still find stuff I don’t like and go in and fix it.
Here are a few strategies you can use to overcome the fear and confusion that stops writers from writing:
Strategy #1: Start Writing
Yes, it is that easy. Just put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start. Let go of the idea that you need clarity or inspiration to begin. You don’t. Just write.
You’ll often find that once you get past the initial push to put something – anything – on paper, the rest will start to flow.
Strategy #2: Delay Editing
Avoid editing yourself before you get at least a few paragraphs down. Get some ideas out and into a document first. Then make it better with edits.
Here’s a little-known fact: there’s no such thing as great writing. Only great editing.
Don’t be afraid to write a messy first draft. Because nothing, and I mean nothing, comes out in its best form on the first go. Trust that the editing process will beautify the mess.
Strategy #3: Do a Writing Exercise
This ties back to strategy #1. Just get something on paper. Writing exercises are a super low stakes way to get you in the flow.
When you’re writing a piece that’s giving you hell, select a small writing prompt tangentially related to your subject.
Then, give yourself a time limit – say 10 or 15 minutes to just write. Force yourself to write non-stop the whole time (this means no putting down the pen; don’t stop typing.) Even if you’re just writing nonsense, don’t stop.
Let go of all expectations that what you write to this prompt will end up in your actual published work. Likely, most of it won’t. Some of it might. It doesn’t matter. The point here is to get those writing juices flowing.
Strategy #4: Write What You Have Energy For
Another news flash: you can write chapters out of order! There’s no writing rule that says you have to write chapters in the order of your outline.
For some people, writing in order works great. For others, it hinders their process. Figure out which type of person you are and write accordingly. You are in charge of when you write and in which order.
Write what excites you! Write what energies you! When you sit down to write, work on the chapter that speaks to you at that moment. You’ll get to the other chapters on another day when you have energy for those.
The Bottom Line is This:
When writer’s block hits, don’t wait for clarity on all you want to say. Don’t wait for confidence to remove your fears. The clarity comes, and the fear dissipates, through the writing. Know it, trust it, and begin.