Creative barrier. Brain block. Idea drought. Writer’s block.
Whatever you want to call it, chances are you’re one of many creators in this world who have experienced it firsthand.
You sit down at your desk with this great idea, excited to finally get it all out on paper … but all you end up doing is sitting there staring at a blank page until you crumple it up, toss it away, and wonder if your next attempt will be any more successful than the last.
Writer’s block comes in many forms. Sometimes you might actually write a decent amount and then seemingly out of nowhere run out of things to write.
Writer’s block is often painted as one of the worst things a writer can suffer from. But what if it’s actually one of the best things that you’ll face as an aspiring creator?
Is ‘writer’s block’ real? In the sense that sometimes creative blockages make completing writing projects more difficult, yes. In the past I’ve been fairly vocal about how much I dislike this term, not because the struggle isn’t real but because I don’t love how people use and respond to it in most situations.
I refer to it as writer’s block because that’s the term people most widely recognize. Regardless of what you call it, though, this state of feeling creatively stuck or “dried out” does happen. It’s fairly common, actually, even among some of the world’s most successful writers.
The difference with many of them, though, is that they don’t treat writer’s block like an actual blockage. That’s why I refrain from calling it a “block” whenever I can. Successful writers treat these moments as barriers meant to be worked around or through. That’s how they still manage to get their work done despite not always feeling the most “at one” with their creativity.
I’m not a fan of people who say “I have writer’s block” and then proceed to just immediately give up without any plan of tackling the problem. “Oh, I’ve had writer’s block for at least a year.” No … I’m pretty sure you just haven’t been trying to create anything. I’m not trying to judge too harshly here, but there does come a point when “feeling blocked” becomes “don’t feel like making the effort.”
Yes, “writer’s block” exists. But it’s not an excuse to stop writing completely. Or, it shouldn’t be anyway.
Writer’s block is your brain’s way of telling you to focus your energy somewhere else. There are a lot of reasons people get writer’s block. I get it most often when I’ve just logged out of a long stretch at my day job, when I’m overworked, and when I’ve hit a rough spot mental health-wise.
Some people get it after they come back from vacation (or when they’re about to go on one). Others face this infuriating and often inconvenient struggle when they’re on deadline and find themselves under too much pressure to nail down a “good” idea.
When you get stuck, it’s not a sign that you’re “failing” or that the idea you had wasn’t a worthy one (necessarily). It’s not an indication of how skilled or capable you are (or aren’t). Really, writer’s block is just your brain’s way of saying: “Hey man … I’ve been working hard all day. Can we take a break? Maybe go for a walk? Get some food?” (Even brains have to eat — or rather, you have to feed them.)
These are the moments you have to get up out of your chair (or off your couch … off the floor … whatever) and give your mind a rest. You don’t have to go for a walk — you can listen to music, maybe dance a little. Take a shower (where some of the best ideas might be waiting). Let yourself unwind for a little while.
Many people don’t think they can do this — walk away from their desks and leave their unfinished work behind — because they’re afraid they won’t be able to go back to and finish it. Well, you weren’t getting anything done anyway while you were just sitting there stuck and mad about it, right?
In some cases, it’s okay — maybe even best — to leave your work alone for the night and come back to it tomorrow morning fresh, rested, and ready to go.
Writer’s block might actually turn out to be a great thing. Why? Because it forces you to look away from the thing that’s leaving you tangled and confused and focus on something that might very quickly inspire you to start writing again.
When you “can’t” write, you’re allowed to remove yourself from the environment that’s likely part of your frustration and do “a bunch of nothing” for a little while. But it might also help to do something else creative — something that still uses your brain, but doesn’t actually require writing.
What might this look like? Maybe you like to doodle or play the two songs you know on the piano when you’re bored. Try doing those things when you’re feeling stuck on your writing. Boredom is one of those things that encourages creativity even when you wouldn’t think it had that power. If writer’s block forces you to be bored for 20 minutes, you might return to your desk with a clear head, ready to tackle the task.
Don’t let writer’s block convince you that you can’t do what you’ve set out to accomplish.
Use it to your advantage. Get creative. The results might surprise you.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.