To someone who writes for a living, nothing sounds scarier than the word “writer’s block.”
When I was younger, and still an aspiring writer, the phrase scared me to no avail. Remembering how I used to fear an unproductive streak still makes my chest thump in a familiar, albeit terrifying, way.
But now, over a decade later, I’m learning to make friends with my writing struggles. A blank page isn’t ideal, but sometimes it’s part of the process.
Writer’s Block = You Suck?
I used to fear writer’s block because I thought it had something to do with my abilities and skills (or lack thereof). Back then, I thought my whole identity was based on my ability to write.
But through the years I have come to realize that I am also many other things (jeweler, entrepreneur, mother, and more). Plus, writing is just a tool I can use to express important values and talk about things that matter.
I have also realized that writer’s block has nothing to do with one’s ability to write. Quite often, it’s a sign that the brain (or body) needs to rest.
Writing is a non-linear process. It’s OK not to have everything figured out — or even for your motivation to come and go. Just keep on writing whenever you can. Sometimes, our perfectionist tendencies get to us and keep us from doing anything at all.
Remember, even the best authors don’t come up with perfect first drafts. That’s why they’re called first drafts to begin with: they’re supposed to be revisited and then revised for a second, third — even up to a tenth time!
If you find yourself staring into a blank page for a significant amount of time, here are some things you can do:
1. Pour yourself some coffee.
Sometimes, a coffee break is all you need to jump-start the creative process. After you’ve emptied one cup (or four), you may able to face the job with a brand new set of eyes. (If too much coffee gives you anxiety, try having tea instead.)
2. Do something else.
If you still feel unproductive after a few cuppa joes, your body might be telling you to take a longer break. Take a hike, go for a run, or turn in for a snooze. ? While your conscious mind is preoccupied with other things, your subconscious will continue to process ideas and iron out the kinks in your writing flow.
3. Write badly.
Yes, that’s right! Don’t bother with finding the “perfect” words to articulate something — just write the first thing that comes to mind. You can always revisit it at a later time and make revisions.
4. Seek outside inspiration.
“Take yourself out of your own work and into someone else’s.” I find this tip highly effective. At times when I’m feeling unproductive, I like to immerse myself in someone else’s creative juices. I might read a novel, watch a movie, or listen to music. This way I can calm my mind and also absorb new ideas. Who knows, these ideas might even make their way to the page later on!
5. If you fail… don’t beat yourself up.
The truth is, productivity is never constant. Accepting this is key to peacefully navigating the ebb and flow of creative work.
When I was writing my college thesis, I got “blocked” for an entire semester — over five months! I sat in front of my laptop for many hours a day, but couldn’t get past Chapter 2! When I admitted this to my thesis adviser, he allowed me to extend for another semester. With the time pressure off, I took a moment to distance myself from thesis work. I then realized I wasn’t as invested in my topic as I originally thought. I decided to change my topic and the writing process went more smoothly from then on.
In Conclusion: A Stubborn Writer Beats A Stubborn Blank Page!
There’s no magic formula to defeating writer’s block, but it’s important to realize that writing is a continuous process and what matters is that you don’t stop — especially when you must confront a stubborn blank page. As Jeff Goins writes in his blog: “The difference between professional writers and amateurs is this: Both encounter blocks, but one pushes through while the other gets paralyzed.”
So keep on writing, and don’t fear staring into a blank page once in a while!