I don’t know if it’s shame, denial, or something else that makes us cling to the concept of writer’s block when life provides so many real roadblocks to writing. We can’t set aside work, family, and other responsibilities; we can’t control how illness, disaster, and trauma swallow up our energy and skills. Why enable more barriers we can’t control?
Maybe artistic pursuits are so romanticized that we don’t like to admit how much hard work, patience, and failure goes into them, especially when we don’t always know what our efforts will yield. How do we excuse the days spent staring at a blank page, questioning everything and producing nothing—or worse, producing something mediocre? Maybe it’s easier to imagine some incurable ailment of the spirit than to try to get to the bottom of a day’s failure to write. But in doing so we deny our own agency and forget what we as writers are capable of. We end up waiting for the writing to fix itself, as if it’s not up to us to get the work done.
That’s why I’ve banned terms like “writer’s block” from my litany of excuses. It sounds like an illness that needs to run its course before I can put pen to paper again, and I get enough of those. There’s also no muse whispering the stories in my ear. Inspiration may strike at any moment, but waiting for it isn’t going to write my novel. My characters aren’t rejecting my plans and disrupting the plot; I’ve either chosen a story that doesn’t fit them or created the wrong characters for the story I want to tell. The block, the muse, the lightning bolt of inspiration, and every last character: they’re all just me. I have good writing days and bad, and neither is an omen of the days to come. In changing the vocabulary—focusing on what I’m doing wrong that needs fixing, rather than what I’m afflicted with—I took back ownership of my work and gave myself permission to fail one day and try again the next.
I still have days when I freeze up and blow off the work to clean my kitchen. Sometimes those days stretch into weeks, even months. But I feel a lot less powerless as a writer since I changed how I talk about writing. Knowing it’s only up to me means I no longer wait helplessly for the words to return. I get to use my own tricks (research breaks, storytelling games, writing playlists, rubber ducks, etc.) to get them back. I get to keep writing.
Of course, my solution isn’t for everybody. Maybe the terminology has no effect on your writing. But we write because we know that words have power. I’m an undisciplined writer and cracking down on those excuses has made a difference. If you’re anything like me, maybe give it a try.
What are your tricks for overcoming writer’s block, or whatever you call it? Share in the comments!