6 Most Common Causes of Writer's Block and How to Breakthrough
Writer's Block! Every writer has heard about it. And while we can all get stuck, the mystique around it has become so foreboding that it stops many writers in their tracks.
This month's writing blog will delve into what Writer's Block is, why we can feel stuck, and most importantly, how we break through and move on.
The Royal Literary Fund of England defines writer's block as "a temporary or lasting failure to put words on paper." It can affect every writer and yet is often overblown.
It is natural to get stuck sometimes. It happens to all writers. The key is two-fold:
Understand why you feel this way
Take steps to move on
Your Path Forward
Many reasons may contribute to your frustrations and your feeling of being stuck. It's helpful to diagnose your reason(s) and then pave your path forward.
Life gets in the way: Life is busy. Your day job can be demanding as well. No wonder it is hard to carve out the time you want for writing or to get into a writing rhythm.
Reassess your life. Recognize your priorities. Adjust your goals. It's important to find the right balance in your life. Sometimes writing may play a prominent role and other times you have to just squeeze in a bit around family and work. If you don't find that balance, you will break and writing will be just one of the items you will sacrifice.
Under pressure: Having deadlines can help motivate us in life, but too much pressure can be debilitating. Sometimes this comes from outside; eg, an editor or agent deadline; but most of the time the pressure comes from within. We want to have a routine. We want to write so many minutes or words at each sitting. But this pressure is not helpful. Writing should be fun and creative. Self-imposed random targets are draining and defeatist.
Relax. Yes, I would advocate allotting some specific time to writing. Maybe that is at 7am or 10pm, maybe it is two days a week or perhaps five. In any case, seek to incorporate writing into your routine. However, I'm not a big believer in aiming to write for a specific time or word count or pages. This places too much pressure on you. Enjoy the writing. Accept that some days you will sit and your creative juices will be flowing and you may look up and have written for hours and pages, and other days it's just a struggle from the start. Maybe you have other obligations on your mind. In any case, give yourself permission to walk away for a minute, an hour, a day, or more. I find taking a nice walk to be great medicine. I usually do this without music. Just me and my thoughts. Oftentimes I do work through my issues and I return later with renewed energy. It may be comforting to know that if you just average writing 10 pages three times a week, you would complete a 270-page manuscript in 9 weeks. Even 1 page a day for 9 months will leave you with a full manuscript. Relax, let it flow. Enjoy the ride.
Too many options: Oftentimes, you may feel you have too many options either for your next writing piece or book or for the path your book and its characters may take. So many options can grind your project to a halt.
Take a break from your project. Pick up another piece of paper. Jot down each option you are considering. Write a paragraph or more on each. What are you trying to do? What is holding you back from this option? Through this exercise, you can often decipher which project or path you have more material and more energy around. That is the path to pursue. Save the other material. You may likely find renewed energy for some of your other ideas later, but for now, you have a direction to focus upon.
No ideas: As opposed to the previous point, sometimes you may feel your mind is blank. You are indeed stuck. Where do you go from here?
Time can be very helpful in these situations. Put your writing aside for a few days or even weeks. Use the time to ponder what you may want to write about. Carry a small notebook around and jot down any ideas that pop into your head. You can detail them or discard them later. Read a book to get your creativity flowing. Often we write what we read, so spend some time in your home library or in your favorite genre at amazon.com. Either may get some ideas flowing.
Negative feedback: Any creative (writer, artist, musician, etc) gets feedback from others, whether solicited or not. Some may be kind, others blunt, and some downright brutal. This can certainly tend to stop us in our tracks. A creative's ego is generally a sensitive thing.
Feedback is an important component of successful writing but under the right circumstances. Initially, as covered in last month's posting on Getting Started, we are just trying to get our thoughts on paper. It will appear sloppy. That's okay. My first writing coach said, "Don't get it right, get it written." I remind myself of that every time I sit down. There will be time for editing and improvement but not at the beginning. Editing at an early stage thwarts creativity. So if someone reads the "vomit" you put down (again, my coach's words), they will be justifiably critical of it. I would not show such early work to anyone. After you have a chance to do one read-through and editing, you may share it with your writing group. Such a group understands where you are coming from. They can provide you with a good balance of positive and constructive criticism to help you in your ongoing editing journey. Don't let others, and more importantly yourself, get you down.
Impostor syndrome: Observing other writers/authors from a distance can leave us dejected. They seem to have themselves together, they are writing a lot or even seem to be selling a lot of books. You may start to wonder...what am I doing trying to write a book? I didn't go to school for this? You may even start to doubt your validity as a writer or even as a person. Our inner voice can be brutal sometimes, especially when we compare ourselves to other's shiny surfaces.
Don't be distracted by the shiny surface. You never know what angst or issues are going on below the surface. Set your own goals and expectations based on your own balance in your life. Review the Writing Themes we covered in the Overview blog.
Know that you are already a writer. Your best path toward being a successful writer is not to replicate others but to find your authentic voice, your own balance, your own aspirations, and then pursue them with vigor. A confident writer, albeit not overly so, is better positioned to manage the ups and downs because they have their own vision of success and the determination to get there.
Find your balance
Write when you feel it
Breath...take breaks and let your thoughts simmer
"Don't get it right, get it written!"
Get a trusted coach and/or writing group
Learn from others but filter based on your own goals
Celebrate even your smallest milestones
Vision and determination with a dose of patience will get you there
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