Nothing can be more frightening for a writer than to meet a blank page that doesn’t want to be filled. I’m not talking about a momentary lapse of creativity. These can be overcome with a step outside and a breath of fresh air. Instead, I am speaking of the gray cloud of insecurity that hangs over every writer’s desk at one time or another – true writer’s block. A cloud that last for weeks, months or even years.
dislodging writer’s block
Writer’s block manifests itself in many forms, but all have the same result. The complete and total stoppage of good writing over an extended period of time. It doesn’t mean that words can’t be created, but rather that good words cease to appear. The condition is fraught with a host of psychological impairments, each overtaking a writer with debilitating doubt and frustration. Each impairment builds upon the other until no end can be seen.
Writer’s block is a downward spiral that takes more than positive thinking to overcome.
As such, writer’s block is a symptom of depression. The cause may be something the writer is aware of or perhaps it is a deep-seeded repression beyond awareness working its way to the surface of consciousness. Finding a way to push past without addressing the cause is out of the question. Rather, treatment and introspection are in order. It is not the inability to write that causes the blockage, but instead a rising need to address a mental fatigue.
Removing writer’s block means looking within.
Viewed more as a gray shroud rather than a blackout, writer’s block acts as a freeze-frame that holds back what should logically happen next. Writers rely on an intuitive sense of progression. Without a feel for what is to occur in a story, the story stalls. Words may be created, but the value is hampered by self-doubt and unproductive criticism.
For me, writer’s block has the ability to completely shut down my writing for weeks at a time. The longer I go, the more depressed I become. Guilt rears its head and I don’t allow myself the time to even attempt a few pages. I feel useless and have no interest in advice or consoling. If I try and write something down, my stress levels go through the roof and I blame every little thing on my inability to put together a good sentence. It usually takes reading a great sentence or paragraph to bring me out of the funk. That or my wife asking why she hasn’t seen me write in a while.
I tend to wait writer’s block out. I don’t read because I feel pale in comparison to the authors I enjoy, or find criticism in sub-par writers I can’t believe have been published.
My focus becomes lost in the tasks of the day, or watching marathon episodes of old TV shows. I become engrossed, expecting that finishing a whole sitcom series is comparable to the feeling of finishing a writing project.
It isn’t. But with TV on, I only need to sit down and turn off my brain.
four elements of writer’s block
For writers there are four distinct areas in which depression presents itself. Each have an infinite number of causes, from insecurities to chemical imbalances, loss to rejection. To begin to gain some control over the situation, acknowledgement is a positive first step. The second is identifying how the depression is manifesting:
anxiety & stress
Often the result of an overload of responsibilities coupled with exhaustion, anxiety and stress are deadly manifestations of writer’s block because they compound upon each other. The more stressed a writer becomes, the more anxious they grow believing that no end is in sight. The more anxieties build, the stronger the piling on of stress becomes. The weight of the world begins to solidify and congeal, leaving a manuscript in the dust as no way forward can be realized. It is all a writer can do to face the day.
This is where that gray shroud comes into play. There is an almost corporeal manifestation of stress and anxiety surrounding the writer. It’s opaque in nature, where the plot can be seen but a creative way forward through natural writing progression cannot. It is disheartening to know what should happen and being unable to bring it about. Progress is therefore stalled.
Fortunately, writer’s block that manifests as anxiety and stress is perhaps the easiest to overcome once recognized and attended to. Attached to more of a physical condition than mental issues, exercise and accomplishment are critical:
- Begin and stick with an exercise regimen
- Eat healthy
- Organize and prioritize your work load
- Enjoy non-writing activities
- Relax by meditating or enjoying light reading
- Make lists of your tasks and check them off when completed
- Address and resolve lingering ‘to-dos’
- Work one issue at a time so as to not be overwhelmed
- Remove unproductive distractions and move forward
internal Anger, Hostility & disappointment
Unfortunately, my own writer’s block will manifest with these elements at times. As much as I recognize what is happening, I find it almost impossible to reach out for help. And with these symptoms, support and understanding is crucial to making a breakthrough.
Internalizing anger and disappointment is a vicious cycle of paranoia and self-abandonment. Suicide is not unheard of in such cases.
I don’t want to ask for help because I tell myself that others will judge me as a narcissist. That I was only complaining and I should buck up and notch my belt. Though I create their responses internally, it festers as though it were said out loud, fueling my anger. I know it is ridiculous to think that by asking help from those I love – my wife, my mother, my siblings – I would receive such a response, but that’s the nature of the beast. It is as if there exists a little demon within my psyche that reinforces hogwash in order to remain alive. If the anger and disappointment disappears, the demon disappears.
- Talk with a confidant
- Write or draw out your feelings
- Recognize the anger and disappointment are not real
- Seek therapy
- Get help
interpersonal anger and irritation
Too often, great writers have gained reputations as being nasty, grumpy and generally unpleasant people. This manifests through cynicism, disparaging remarks and overall contempt. Think of A.G. Bierce’s sharpened columnist pen against President McKinley, Hemingway’s rude treatment of waiters and Twain’s scorn for intellectuals.
For those of us who are yet to be recognized as great literary figures who might be afforded a little leeway in social graces, this behavior can be devastating to relationships. I myself have lashed out against those I love, aggravated with my own lack of focus and progression. Because of this, every little noise was an unimaginable insult and injury. My kids would have to tip toe around me, trying their best not to be kids and happy be part of my day.
I feel immensely guilty at those times, fully aware of what a monstrous thing I had become. I do my best to make up for such behavior but often feel it’s not enough. It is my behavior that is inexcusable, not theirs.
When these manifestations occur, it is best to focus on the support and understanding of loved ones, and to not lash out with anger or irritability.
- Apologize immediately
- Do not make excuses
- Be honest and explain your frustration at yourself
- Step away from the writing and spend quality time with family
- Do something genuine for your loved ones
- Try to figure out what is making you so
- Share what’s bothering you
- Repair the damage
- Talk it out
apathy and disengagement
More writers become lost in this form of depressive writer’s block than all of the rest combined. A mental shut down encourages a writer to cease producing altogether. Writing no longer seems interesting or desirable. It goes as far as to remove inspiration. The muse seemingly departs.
Consequently, this complete disengagement reduces the writer to call it quits. Because it would take effort to overcome writer’s block, the writer that once was falls away.
Re-engagement with the craft and the subsequent dissolution of writer’s block relies on a concentrated effort to rekindle the passion. Writing is an aphrodisiac, far beyond the boundaries of the literary boudoir. Because of this, it entices the spirit to engage with the world so as to flourish, seeking stimulus from the surroundings. To this end, the cure lies in exploration.
- Create dangerously
- Revisit the writing foundations
- Experiment with new genres
- Draft material you would be ashamed to share
- Re-read your favorite books
- Write as a hedonist
- Be mindful of your process
solutions to true writer’s block
Recognize the symptoms as writer’s block rather than a momentary lapse. This is the first step to getting back on course. Focus on what issues surround your life at hand and address them. Do not bury problems to only have them resurface later. Be productive when you can without forcing the process.
Be kind to yourself and others. Make healthy choices that support the body and mind. Surround yourself with loved ones. Explore the world. Be an adventurer. Break barriers. Find time to write that makes sense with your schedule. If you need professional help, seek it. Read.
In conclusion, you are a writer for a reason. Whether it is a cosmic fate or environmental conditioning, the trials before you are known. Hence forth, be the wordsmith you are and let no writer’s block stand in the way.
I want to hear your battles with writer’s block. Please share them in the comments below.