Writer's block. The term is familiar to many people, and all writers, but what is writer's block, exactly?
To most people writer's block is when they want to sit down and write something but feel they have nothing to say, don't know what to say, or how to say it. This happens to even published authors from time to time, so no matter what level of writer you are it will likely be an issue at some point.
One of the frustrating things about writer's block is we feel like we are failing at our craft. As a writer it is my job to write daily or at least several days a week, if I am serious about it. Sometimes I sit down to write and I feel it working, that creative energy is flowing and I know exactly where I want to go and how to get there. Other times I have an idea of where I want to end up, but don't know how to get there. Then there are days like today where I want to write but feel "blocked." Why is that?
We all have good and bad days because that's part of being human. Creative people in other arts have told me the same thing, sometimes they have a day where they are "on" and other times they have days where nothing seems to work. They key to success as a writer is to push yourself to work through the problems you encounter such as writer's block. Most people probably understand that but might not have the ability to do it, or know how to do it. If you don't have the ability, you can learn it. Here are some ways to work through writer's block.
The first technique I ever read about for dealing with this was from a book called "How to be a Writer" by Barbra Baig. I read this book in February of 2012 when I first decided to become a writer. When it came in the mail I was too excited to read it because I couldn't sit still, but once I calmed down I started to absorb this information. Baig introduced me to "free writing." This exercise was created for the sole purpose of beating writer's block. What you do is set the timer for ten minutes (at least ten, it can be longer if you want) and simply write the first thing that comes into your mind. Don't stop to correct spelling or punctuation don't worry about the subject matter at all. Simply write whatever in in your head, you can even write "I can't think of anything" for the entire ten minutes. Just make sure you don't stop writing. Free writing is private, so take all the pressure off and know that nobody else is going to see what you free write about. I have found this is an effective technique. Give it a chance and see if it helps you break out of that feeling of being stuck.
Another thing that I have learned helps me is writing in my journal. I have been keeping a journal for years but now I find it also is a way for me to find something to write about. My typical journal entry is a few hundred words about my day and my thoughts and feelings that happened today or have been going on in my mind recently. Not only does this get me writing, it gets me thinking without any pressure. Yesterday I was stuck on what I wanted to write about so I started writing in my journal and discovered that I wanted to write out a conversation I had with someone earlier this year. The idea of writing out that conversation wouldn't have entered my mind if I had not done my journal writing. I've always thought that keeping a journal has several positives, and that now includes helping me get my creative writing going.
When I first started writing stories I had a lot of anxiety. I would often try and sit down and write but I would get stuck and then get nervous, sometimes very quickly. It felt like I would run out of things to say after only a few paragraphs. One time it was so bad that after writing for about fifteen minutes I started to have an anxiety attack. I got into bed and feel asleep at five in the afternoon!! The reason for this is because I was planning on sharing my writing with others. I was worried about being judged as a writer. I was worried about what my writing said about me. Fiction writing was something I was brand new to and felt I didn't have enough knowledge or experience to write anything respectable. Having these thoughts and insecurities made me feel vulnerable, which lead to anxiety and a list of excuses not to write. This was a problem I suffered from for several months. Then I got some advice online that changed my outlook.
I posted about these issues on a writing website looking for advice, and someone respond by saying that I shouldn't set my expectations so high, don't need to be so hard on myself, and I should give myself permission to write. Give yourself permission to write the worst story of all time. This helped me put things in perspective. I was setting unrealistic goals for myself for where I was and because of it I wasn't able to sit down and enjoy the process. Writer's block doesn't come from an inability to write something, it comes from the feeling that we can't write something that meets our satisfaction. So what if your writing sucks? Write anyway. Cut yourself some slack and write for yourself. You can edit for your audience later.
When I took a creative writing class for the first time in the spring of 2013 I was excited because I was going to get good feedback and become a better writer. However, I was terrified at first because each week we had to write a story and share it with the class. I had some experience in sharing my writing by doing it with our writer's group, but I still lacked confidence, especially with a new audience. My biggest worry was that they were all going to say I was a horrible writer and I would be embarrassed in front of a group of people. After the first class though, I learned that every student in that room had the same fears I had. They all lacked confidence and were nervous about reading their creative writing for others. On the first day of class one of the students said he took the course to help gain confidence in sharing his writing. Our professor said that this class is going to do that. And it did. It was one of the best classes I have ever taken and has helped me become a better writer. Forcing myself to share my writing each week and work on new writing exercises was the key.
In closing, I honestly believe that every writer deals with fear or rejection and writer's block at some time or another. I've even heard great writers say they had a good story idea, but it took years for them to start writing the story they had in mind. When you get stuck try journal writing, or free writing, or make a list of at least twenty things you can write about based on your knowledge and interest in them. As much as I hate to admit it, making a list of things is an effective way to organize. Don't beat yourself up if you get stuck, and don't be afraid to take a day off every now and then. Make sure you are taking it off for the right reasons though, and not as a cop-out to avoid writing. Keep pushing to get through that writer's block. You can even do what I just did beat writer's block by writing about having it.