Hi there! I wrote this post six months ago and avoided publishing it because it was written in a tone and using some wording I’m not proud of. However, due to some personal issues, I don’t have a new post ready for you today. So I offer this to you this morning instead, in the hopes you can pick out the general intended message, and that we can all learn from this — that sometimes it’s OK to admit you didn’t do your best and you can and will do better tomorrow.
The classic picture of what too many people call “writer’s block” is simple. An aspiring writer, head full of ideas, sits down in front of their laptop and eagerly opens a blank document. They’re excited! They’re ready! This is The One! This is The Book that’s going to be read by millions!
But then they realize that in order for this to happen they actually have to start writing. And so they stare at the blank page in front of them motionless as if waiting for the ideas to leap off the page. They continue to stare at that nothingness, that quickly fading hope of a story, until they finally give up. They’re “blocked.” It’s hopeless. They close their laptop and hope for a better outcome tomorrow.
This is not the only way that writing does not happen.
While there will be times the words just won’t come to you the way you want them to, and on many of those occasions you won’t be able to do a single thing about it, more often than not your time spent not writing will not be something out of your control at all. Quite the opposite, actually.
As much as I despise the things “writer’s block” implies — that there’s nothing that can be done and that it’s OK not to write whenever you’re feeling blocked, and so on — I’m going to continue using it throughout this post because it’s the term most people will readily understand.
If it’s more than staring at a blank page, why is that how so many people see it? Because there are no emotions or bad behaviors associated with sitting at a desk staring at a screen. People don’t like to acknowledge that the reasons they’re having trouble writing run deep. People haven’t learned — and hopefully will, gently and kindly — that in order to write with feeling, you have to be fully in touch with your whole self, the good as well as the bad.
This is the reality of creative blockage. There is something in the way. There is always something in the way. But it’s not always obvious, and that’s the biggest problem of them all.
Sometimes writer’s block manifests as avoidance. You don’t ever even get to the point where you’re sitting down staring at a blank page — you never reach the chair. Instead, you continuously consult excuse after excuse, disordering your priorities, procrastinating, saying over and over, “I know I should write,” but you don’t.
Avoidance as a means of “dealing with” writer’s block can look different for different people. A writer might worry that her idea isn’t “original” enough, so she keeps moving her writing task further and further down her to-do list, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, and even going through and giving away half her worldly possessions all before even thinking about touching her manuscript again.
Or, you might stay in bed later or go to bed earlier because you’re “tired” when in reality those are your peak writing times and you just don’t want to face the page. (I still do this on occasion, I am just as guilty as you are, so there’s no point in denying it. I see you.)
You WANT to write, you have the time and the energy to do it, but you don’t do it. The second you even think about putting in the intense effort required to do the work, the moment writing begins to feel like a chore, you give up. “I’m feeling blocked today,” you shrug. “I guess I won’t write.”
Do you understand now, why “writer’s block” is such a terrible way to describe the struggle to write? It doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t even imply that these mystery problems can be solved.
Am I implying that all writers who are struggling are behaving poorly or that they’re lazy? Obviously not. I’m here to help you, remember? In this case, helping you means feeding you hard-to-swallow truths. Sometimes writing is hard and that’s just a reality you have to figure out how to work through. Sometimes you’re just dragging your feet and throwing silent tantrums and you need someone to talk you out of it.
In a nutshell: Don’t blame writer’s block for your problems. And don’t just assume it’s not writer’s block if you’re not trying to write. Be honest with yourself. It’s time to face what’s going on inside so that you can face what you need to pour out onto that page.
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.