Knock it off: 5 Ways to Overcome Writer's Block
You're sitting alone in front a blank computer screen page, the thoughts in your head mocking the futile attempts to strike the keys with 26+ possible combinations, and instead all you have is an infinity of blank space around you. The thoughts which were clear cut and meaningful while thinking are coming out in jumbled jargon and it might as well be jabberwocky.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.**
My own memories of two summers ago still come out to haunt me now and then. I couldn't write. I didn't know what to write. I wasn't just blocked. I was jammed somewhere in my own head and unable to write myself out of it, and to make it worse, my thoughts were opaque and unreadable, even to me. That whole summer was one of lethargy and part of it was the paralysis that kept me from writing. What caused what is unknown, but in the end I forced myself to write and gained incredible value from those lessons that will benefit me for the rest of my lifetime.
1. Write something awful
It was hard. It was vulnerable, and it was embarrassing. It's uncertain whether it is possible to ever become a good writer without profound humiliation at one time or another, and most of the time it feels like we inflict it on ourselves by publishing anything. Writers lace themselves into any story, book, essay, article, or blog post they write (whether they acknowledge it or not complete objectivity isn't possible) and putting themselves out into the public eye opens the possibility for criticism, more painful because taken personally.
But you do it anyway because of desperation. So I did. I probably wouldn't read it myself anymore without blushing, but it was effective. This lead me to the best thing I have learned from learning how to write.
2. Perfectionism kills creativity
The number one way NOT to succeed in writing is to demand perfection right from the beginning. An entrepreneur-writer I admire hosted a guest on a podcast recently and they discussed something that hit pay dirt in my brain. Without quoting directly, the concept was that you create something, you put it out there, and you tweak technique along the way. In writing if you wait to publish until something is perfect you basically create writer's block in yourself.
This process shouldn't look like: write a paragraph, edit, write a sentence, rewrite it 10 times, write another paragraph.. etc. You will kill creativity and productivity every time. You write, write WRITE. Create something awful. Edit. Have a mentor or editor review it. Edit. Edit. Possibly Publish.
The number one thing any writer has to come to terms with is that the first draft might be awful, your writing might suck for a couple of years, and you will be embarrassed more than once when you read what you wrote not long ago, but if you persist and work hard you will become an honest-to-goodness writer whether or not the world sees it.
3. Don't be afraid to read
There's this idea out there that we have to be 100% original every time. It isn't possible. Let us understand each other; this does not mean plagiarism. Copying has always been (a) a technique by which a student learns or (b) cheating. The line is drawn when you capitalize directly on what someone else wrote or spoke without proper credit or permission.
My point is there comes a time when you have to venture out on your own without ceasing to learn from other people. Writers should read voraciously. Sometimes when I'm stumped I read something entertaining, inspiring, epic, or admirable and this gives me the motivation I need to try again. A moment that will define me for the rest of my life is seeing the original manuscript of Jane Eyre, with countless crossed out words and sentences and corresponding rewrites. Just then I felt a kinship to someone from centuries before. No matter she's light years past me in skill, she reached out from the past and taught me that it takes many tries to get it right. Reading is a valuable, educational tool for a writer.
4. Get out - Raus, Raus!
Whoever created the notion that writers always and forever shut themselves into dingy attics to write for 3 days before emerging rumpled and starving were obviously in love with the idea of extreme introversion. Many of us don't operate at our peak absolutely alone, but rather alone in a crowd. If humans are your inspiration, or if you are writing professionally, than you're going to have to spend significant amounts of time observing and living among the creatures.
There is a time to get by yourself and write it all out, but if you're stuck chances are getting out among the people in the streets, cafes, businesses, and homes of the world will give you what is lacking: motivation.
5. Drink Coffee
I say this humorously, but I mean it. When I'm stumped I get a cup of coffee. If I'm really stumped I utilize point 4 again in conjunction with coffee. The point is, a little stimulant can help a lot to get the creative juices going.
One last thing. I didn't write this only for people who are making money writing. This is for everyone that wants to write, because I believe there are many more who would write if we didn't have to live up to the obligation of being a writer. It's not mysterious. It's not exclusive. It's for people who want to convey things through written word in a beautiful and effective way to contribute good to this world.
"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy." **
** Taken from Lewis Carroll's poem: Jabberwocky.
All images courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo