I’ve tried for a long time to put into words exactly how I feel about “writer’s block.” I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t the phrase itself that I can’t stand, but its implications. To me, “writer’s block” is an excuse — one that many people who say they want to take their writing more seriously give into almost instantly.
I can’t help but roll my eyes when they do. As empathetic as I try to be, there are just some habits and behaviors I can’t forgive.
Why do we give in to excuses? Why do we let them win? Maybe it’s because we don’t realize we’re even giving in. But the much more likely scenario is that many of us are fully aware we are allowing our excuses to make our decisions for us, but don’t know what to do about it.
When I think about this I picture all the weeknights I have spent wandering around the house completing small, necessary but not technically urgent chores during my designated writing time. It’s been a long day at work. I’m feeling discouraged or frustrated about something. When I tried to sit down and write an hour ago, I just couldn’t focus. My mind keeps wandering. I tried, but I couldn’t do it.
What I don’t realize is that there is a small voice in my head telling me that because writing felt particularly difficult today, I shouldn’t even bother. Feeling mentally and emotionally drained isn’t my fault, after all, and the resulting “blockage” in my creative channels therefore isn’t my fault, either. I’m not being lazy, I’m not abandoning my work, I just “can’t” wrap my head around my ideas long enough to turn them into words.
There’s no way out of this, I think. I can’t just will myself to write when it seems impossible.
Or can I?
The reason I hate the idea of writer’s block is not that I don’t believe writers face major challenges in their creative endeavors. It’s that I’ve seen far too many aspiring writers use the term as a get out of jail free card, a guilt-free excuse for not sitting down and getting their work done.
“Feeling blocked” is an excuse other people can accept. “Oh yeah, I’ve totally been there,” your other writer friend says casually as the two of you sip coffee and play games on your phones instead of writing. “It happens to the best of us. You’ll do better tomorrow.”
But will you? Who’s to say you won’t return to this exact spot around the exact same time tomorrow, open your laptop, and discover you are feeling just as stuck as you did yesterday? It’s more likely to happen than you might think. And it’s going to keep happening as long as you keep believing the lie that “writer’s block” is normal and there is no way to get over it, that all you can do is wait it out and “try again tomorrow.”
The only way to break through barriers like this is to write anyway, even when you don’t feel like you can or you secretly don’t want to. Oh, is that not what you wanted to hear? Too bad. Writer’s block itself may not be a myth, but you’re letting it ruin your chances of success and you know it. Stop.
I don’t mind when people tell me they are struggling to get the words out. This is a real issue and of course I’m going to do everything I can to help you turn things around and put your ideas into words. What I cannot and will not tolerate is a writer who tells me they can’t write today because they have writer’s block. I have no patience for excuses or someone who isn’t willing to put in the effort to Make Writing Happen.
How do you go from “I don’t think I can write anything” to “wow oh wow I can’t believe I just wrote all those beautiful words”? Let’s go back to me of the past, wandering around doing mindless chores. You might think I gave in to my excuses because I walked away and allowed myself to be distracted. But what I was really doing was giving myself a designated amount of time to breathe, to talk some sense into myself, and to mentally prepare for what I knew was going to be a tough road ahead.
At the designated time, I floated back to my home office and I sat down. I already had in mind exactly what I was going to work on because I allowed myself the headspace to do that. And so when I sat down I was able to start writing right away. Did I want to? Not really. Did my body ache from exhaustion? Yeah. But the work had to be done. It was not optional. I may have felt stuck, but I made the conscious decision to work through it. And that is why you are reading this post right now.
Stop using “writer’s block” as an excuse for not writing. It’s not OK, it’s not “normal,” it’s not some kind of “rite of passage” for an aspiring writer. Creative hurdles exist, but they are meant to be cleared. If you’re not willing to put in the effort to write through the pain, the disinterest, the exhaustion, then why are you writing? If you don’t want to do the work, then what’s the point?
When you’re feeling stuck, it’s OK to feel frustrated and maybe a little overwhelmed. But the only way to overcome that is to write despite the barriers. If you need to take a short walk, do some dishes, play fetch with your dog for 10 minutes, fine, do that. But get right back to your work after that and do it. Publishing is a competitive field, and if you can’t keep up with its demands — writing often, even when you’d rather not — you’re not going to make it.
Do the work. It’s not always going to be pretty, but something is always better than nothing. Always.
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.