Let me be clear: I do not believe writer’s block exists.
Not even after I spent four hours sitting in front of my laptop Monday afternoon, jumping from writing project to writing project, feeling completely … blocked.
Unable to finish anything I started, annoyed with PubMed, constantly allowing myself to get distracted, I was almost – almost – convinced that I’d been wrong all this time. That writer’s block did exist, and it was crushing my productivity.
The frustration and discouragement that comes with those kinds of experiences is where the idea of writer’s block probably originated. But it goes much deeper than some invisible force keeping you from getting your work done (some of us call those “excuses”).
There is always a legitimate reason why you cannot write or do not feel like writing. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I wasn’t completely sure of what those major reasons could actually be, until I discovered a few of them for myself.
Let me explain.
Your brain knows when you’re doing it wrong
It knows when you’re trying to make an idea happen that is not meant to happen. All things considered, you’re pretty smart. You know, deep down, when you’re doing something that is not in your best interest … or the best interest of anyone else.
In terms of writing, there are days where even the projects we are most excited about are tough to get through. But most of the time, when you’re really struggling to finish something, it’s probably because it’s the absolute last thing you want to be writing right now.
At least, that’s what I figured out was happening to me.
I had an article to write. And I did not want to write it. At all.
Basically, I was doing everything I always tell you not to do
I found myself twisting the angle of my article to fit what the publication was more likely to accept (NEVER DO THIS). I abandoned my original idea, the article I was actually interested in writing, because I knew it wasn’t the right fit based on their submission guidelines.
Writing an article you’re not interested in writing is exactly like getting a topic assigned for a research paper in school and having to sit down and write it regardless of whether you “feel like it” or not.
It’s not writer’s block. You’re just having a hard time making personal connections with the topic, and your brain is screaming at you to stop trying to force yourself to finish and to please write something else.
If this is you, take a deep breath. There is a way to get past it.
How I got it all done anyway
I had a feeling, as I sat down to get some writing done early in the afternoon, it was going to be a rough session. Usually I can ignore my Facebook tab, but I kept clicking over to it. My brother had The Office on in the other room, and I kept wandering in to “see which episode it was” (we all know where that leads). I kept jumping between about five different things, not getting anything done on any of them, because I was having a hard time staying focused.
It’s a misconception that when you’re having trouble focusing, it’s because you’ve lost the motivation to keep working. Actually, you’re probably having trouble focusing either because your physical needs aren’t satisfied (you’re tired, hungry, cold), you have an unread message and keep thinking about what your response will be or you don’t actually want to be working on what you’re working on.
I took a few steps to realign my focus, and guess what? I got everything done. One project at a time.
I answered a message waiting for a reply.
I closed Facebook.
I closed my door so I couldn’t hear the T.V. in the background.
I got a blanket.
I put my phone on silent and set it just out of reach.
I closed out all projects except for one.
I took a 10-minute break and read a few pages in my book.
Then, with only one project open, I sat down and I finished it. No distractions, realizing that I WAS interested in writing the article, I was just trying to do too many things at once.
You are in control of your own productivity
I had a headache. I was tired. It was Monday. I didn’t want to do my work.
But do you know what? I am 23 years old. I am technically an adult. I have a lot to do in a relatively short period of time, and I cannot afford (literally) to put off my work just because I don’t feel like doing it.
The best part? When I got it all done, I still had time to watch a few more episodes of The Office.
Image courtesy of Brendan Wood/flickr.com.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.