Writers encounter many “creative barriers” throughout their lives. These are usually mental roadblocks that do their best to stop you from writing no matter how much you might want to. The inability to focus on a particular task, or being afraid you’ll write something that other people will criticize or laugh at.
Most creative barriers, writers can learn to overcome. But not all of them. Not always.
There’s always one that keeps and tightens its hold on you even when you try to get rid of it, it seems.
My greatest barrier to creativity — as difficult as it still is for me to address it publicly — is my mental health. The truth is, there are days I just can’t push myself to get all my writing done. And when I do, because sometimes you simply have to, I’m always afraid I’m going to push myself so far past my limits that I’ll never recover.
Sometimes I simply feel overwhelmed. Other times I desperately want to write, but it feels like my creative energy is hiding behind a locked door and my brain has changed the passcode. More often than not, I feel at war with my body and brain, frustrated that I can’t extend myself creatively, at least not to the magnitude I desire.
I’m fine. I’ve learned when to push through the frustration and exhaustion and when to force myself to be still and rest. But I’ve known for a long time that this barrier, these cards I’ve been dealt, cannot be changed. This is not an obstacle to be conquered. I have two options: Allow myself to be defeated and bow to the barrier, or stand tall, make peace with my demons, and learn to walk beside them — to create, and hopefully thrive, despite them.
If you know anything about me, you know I have and will always choose the latter option. I am not myself when I’m not creating something. The reason I get so frustrated when I “can’t” write is because I always want to be writing. It is instinctive. When I’m feeling any kind of emotion, I immediately want to start writing about it. If I don’t, I don’t always know what to do with my emotions. I feel overwhelmed by them, and then I feel empty and lost.
Of course I’ve made peace with the reality of my circumstances. I’m doing pretty well, all things considered, and I’m more than grateful for that. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I am a problem solver. When something isn’t working the way it should, I immediately want to jump in and figure out how to make it better. This is not something fixable. I will always be a writer, but I will also always be a writer with one barrier I cannot erase.
I’ve learned to block out distractions and write through the “not wanting to” moods. I’ve taught myself how to stay organized and prioritize my to-do lists. I’ve learned how to start projects when that seems like the hardest part of the process. I’m terrible at finishing things I start — that seem familiar? — so I’m actively working on getting better at writing endings.
But there is no way to solve my greatest barriers. There are only ways to cope, to continue moving forward despite that barrier always being there, always making every step a little bit harder than it should be to take.
Everyone has at least one creative barrier like this. Some call them writing roadblocks. They’re things that stand in your way and try to prevent you — often successfully — from writing or creating. Most of these are problems that can be dealt with. But it seems to me there’s always one you can’t shake. There’s always one that’s going to stick around no matter what you do.
And how do you deal with that — how do you come to terms with the fact that writing is just a little bit harder for you because of this one unsolvable thing? You just keep doing the writing things anyway. You keep your mind and heart as open as you can. When an idea crosses your path, you grab it. You hold onto it. You do everything in your power to transform it into something worthwhile. To put the idea, somehow, into words.
The more we practice this art of “just writing anyway,” the stronger, creatively, mentally, emotionally, we become. I am finding success as a writer not because I am perfect, but because I choose to work even on days I’d rather not. I persist. I think if you can find your way of persisting, even when your barriers surround you and threaten your productivity and drive, you will make it. You will go far.
Even with that barrier trying to hold you back, even though you know you’ll never get rid of it, you’ll write the stories and reach the audiences you’ve always wanted to.
I can only speak to this from my own experience, of course. I’m in no way implying that you’re somehow “weak” or “less than” if you can’t figure out how to make peace with your barriers. I feel for you, and I wish it weren’t so difficult for you. But I’m not judging you. As much as I can, I’d like to stand with you, to remind you that trying your best is better than not trying at all, and on the days your best doesn’t feel good enough, I can assure you, it still is.
In these moments, when it feels like your creative barriers are swallowing you whole, focus on your strengths. Focus on what you have managed to overcome, and what you’re good at, and what you CAN accomplish today. No one is superhuman. No writer can write every day through every storm and hardship. Life happens, life isn’t fair. You have to figure out how to deal with that in your own way, in your own time.
I hope you can. I hope that no matter what you feel is holding you back, you can find a way to access your creative energy and use it like a superpower. I can’t tell you how to do that, I don’t know you. But I can, I hope, encourage you to keep trying, to keep moving forward one step at a time.
It’s just a barrier. You can keep writing anyway. I know you can. But first, you have to believe you can, too.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.