As a staff writer at Inspire Books, I have spent this summer attempting to tackle the areas of writing I think are most important or need more attention. There is one subject, however, that seemed to loom above the others, distant and unapproachable: writer's block.
The irony is not lost on me.
So here I am, on my last blog of the summer, with writer’s block on the writer’s block blog.
As humorous as the situation is, it got me thinking about how I usually approach my writing when it feels like there’s a wall between me and the blank page, or even what “writer’s block” means. As I continue further into my career, I have been learning that the blanket term is referring to many different struggles rolled into one. Writer’s block can refer to a struggle to focus on a project, a sense of fear when beginning or continuing something that seems too overwhelming. It can even cover the anxiety that comes with writing when you think of what must be done to get your work out in the world after it is finished. Writer’s block is so much more than the simple struggle of the activity itself. Don’t lose hope, though! There are strategies to lessen the anxiety, to coax the words you know are there to come out.
Writer’s block can refer to a struggle to focus on a project, a sense of fear when beginning or continuing something that seems too overwhelming.
The issue with many of the strategies and workarounds you’ll find online, though, is the timing. We are living in a post-COVID-19 world, where the rules of the game of life have been changed. Not only are work environments changing daily, but we are just now emerging from a world that has been shut down for years. Even introverts realized the borders of how isolated they can be without shutting down. Then, as we begin to return to normal, bad news seems to be everywhere we look, with the Earth itself shutting down around us, politics out of control, with all this wherever we look, how can writers possibly be expected to write happily and with confidence?
Something I have learned, and must continue to remind myself of, is that my writing is not useless. I am not avoiding the problem by writing; I am not escaping to a fictitious world. My writing is a tool in my arsenal to help raise awareness for the issues I care about. I can do good with my work and use it to enact change. Keeping that in mind when I get caught up in a spiral of hopelessness at the news of today has been instrumental in pushing away that manner of writer’s block.
My writing is a tool in my arsenal to help raise awareness for the issues I care about. I can do good with my work and use it to enact change.
Strategy #1 - Don't force it.
As to many of the other areas summed up by “writer's block,” the main strategy I have learned in my experience is to simply not force it. There are times and places to just grin and bear it, but with something creative, and so elusive, pushing my imagination when it simply will not cooperate is more harmful than helpful. I end up hating whatever small results I manage to squeeze out, and usually am more reluctant in the future to keep writing. Instead, I like to focus on other aspects of the craft than the prose. As a fiction writer, I will usually use my characters as a fallback, developing character sheets or working through the facts of who they are. For a broader audience of writers, timelines or outlines are an excellent way to remain productive in the face of writer’s block. They require less creativity and concentration, while still making progress towards the end goal.
Strategy #2 - Break your writing down into smaller tasks.
Speaking to the issue of the fear of the post-writing process, this is a little harder to tackle. Every writer I know has gone through that phase of fear when they realize that the process of writing itself is not the end, or even the majority of the work they need to do to be successful. It is not something that is avoidable, or ignorable, which often makes it quite difficult to overcome. The most helpful strategy, in my opinion, is breaking down the task.
Strategy #3 - Create a workable schedule.
Writing out a schedule, when to focus on writing or marketing, and just keeping myself occupied with one issue at a time. If I know I have scheduled time for myself to concentrate on marketing or social tasks later makes it easier to work on the writing aspect in the current moment. It keeps the mass of the task from hanging over me and feeling insurmountable.
The most important thing to remember when confronting writer’s block is that there are countless strategies, and what will work for you may not work for someone else. The list above are ways I have found to keep myself productive, but they will not work for everyone. If you have tried every strategy you’ve seen online, or recommended to you, and nothing seems to work, do not lose hope.
Writer’s block is a fickle thing, and it can play by its own rules. You are a writer, someone who creates something from nothing. It almost seems like magic. And what are a few months of non-productivity in the face of such an amazing talent? Stay patient, and know that even if it seems like you will never write again, that you will, and it will be amazing when you do.