Got writer’s block? Here are three reasons why, plus suggestions for blasting through it.
(This is the third installment in a series on the writing process. The first post (a creative spin on writer’s block) can be found here; the second post (how to silence the internal judge) can be found here.)
A wise friend and mentor once told me that writers are made, not born.
Quality writing takes practice. It’s hard, even for those who seem to have entered the world with a pen in one hand and a notepad in the other.
The initial frustration for many writers is the deceptively complicated act of getting started.
Here are 3 reasons you have writer’s block, and how to blast through them
Roadblock number one: Fear of being wrong. I addressed this in part two of the series, but as a recap, a writer’s biggest critic is generally herself. This is entirely true for me, and I’ve had to practice ousting that negative voice from my head. The judge has an appropriate role, but only once the madman (the free-thinking creative side) has had a chance to spill the words onto the page.
How to move past it. In brief, just get writing. Find out more here.
Roadblock number two: Feeling overwhelmed. Maybe it’s an assigned prompt that’s super broad. Maybe it’s a fantastic idea in your head, but their are five million parts to it and the details come out garbled. Or maybe there’s a lot of research and reading you’ll have to do first and you’re already strapped for time. All of these possibilities can make the idea of writing heavier than an elephant on your chest. And who can write, much less breathe, with a weight like that?
How to move past it. If the topic is too broad, ask questions. For instance, who would disagree, and why? What’s the main point the reader should see? Why would the rest of the world care about this? Such questions narrow the goal of the piece and make it easier to settle on a starting point.
If questions aren’t helpful (or if none come to mind), write it all down, even if it seems irrelevant. Pay no mind to form, structure, or organization. Connections can be made, categories can be formed, and thoughts can be organized and rearranged after the fact, like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. Finally, if it’s the amount of prep work that’s preventing progress, break the work into pieces and use active reading techniques to keep track of information (i.e. sticky note tabs, two column notes, annotation, etc.).
Roadblock number three: Lack of interest. What if the task at hand just isn’t interesting? The most common place for this is in a school environment, when an assignment bears no relevance to personal experience. But it can happen in the professional and social world, too: a supervisor might request a report on some aspect of a job; a friend might ask for a reference letter or a summary of a neighborhood event. While it’s generally easier to write about something relevant and purposeful, that won’t always be the case.
How to move past it. How much flexibility does the task afford? Can the topic be changed? Is there some way to connect or relate it to personal experience? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, great! Tweak away and go for it.
But what if the answer is no? In this case, think about how the structure might be adjusted. A more creative approach to writing (such as an I-Search paper, a narrative framework, or a modern adaptation like a fabricated text or email conversation) can provide a level of tolerable interest that the topic itself cannot.
Should neither of these options be the case, don’t give up. View it is a challenge and treat yourself when you’re done.
Roadblock number four: Robot mode. Habits are habits because they are comfortable and easy. But approaching something the same way every time can cause more harm than good. It’s like eating the same thing for breakfast every morning. Eventually, the cinnamon raisin oatmeal loses its appeal and the first meal of the day becomes a chore. The same can be said for writing. Approaching the writing process in an identical manner every time can lead to paralysis and a lack of creativity.
How to move past it. Change the medium. Switch out the keyboard for pen and paper. Go outside and use chalk on the sidewalk. Scribble on a giant sheet of paper taped to the wall. Also, consider breaking the rules: be bold and use elements from other genres, like a fictional paragraph to begin a critical essay. Try writing everything in short, staccato sentences. Lastly, consider writing in the style of a favorite author. Take a look at how his or her sentences are structured and use that as a guide. Taking a different approach to starting a piece can spark the imagination and infuse much needed motivation.
Roadblocks are formidable. They create an inertia that excels at preventing any sort of forward motion. Fortunately, though, they aren’t impossible to overcome. With the right strategies and some old fashioned practice, you’ll be on your way in no time.