Anyone who has ever put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and enjoyed it has experienced the inevitability that is a lack of motivation to continue known as writer’s block. And anyone who has suffered from writers block will have asked for advice on how to regain their past momentum only to be told that all they have to do is “just write“. It’s a phrase I’ve heard come from people who don’t enjoy writing, love it to death and who are employed to do so. Truth is, however, it might be the single worst piece of advice anyone can give to a sufferer of writer’s block.
I get the idea behind it – to continue with what momentum remains until such a point as you pass through your drought of words and can continue as you had been. But the idea is fundamentally flawed by implying that surviving the drought is going to be easy. In the same way a single bottle of water won’t see you from one side of the Sahara Desert to the other, brief spikes inspiration won’t carry you through a lack of motivation. This is especially true when you consider the thing you’re thirsty for is something you enjoy and are, seemingly, unable to do. It’s because of this that I’ve found my own personal writer’s block is followed by a lot of cynicism.
I have a complicated relationship with my writer’s block; when it comes to this blog and my journal I am extremely motivated and highly disciplined. I’m able to identify when I won’t be able to write for a while and do so in the moment to compensate for when I’ll be away from my computer or paper. In fact, I recently mentioned in my wrap-up for November how ahead of schedule I was for this blog and how I’d been getting back on top of my journal. But in other areas, I just can’t seem to shake writer’s block at all.
I’ve actually got 20,000 words of a novel wrapped up in a cosy word document that, after each viewing or addition, goes unseen for increasingly long periods of time. It’s not that I don’t want to write it or have fallen out of love for it, but that I’m suffering both a drought of motivation and of inspiration. Every time I open it up it’s as though I have less and less to add, despite having more than ample written plans for what lies ahead. And it’s like, well what now?
No. No, I will not “just write“. I have tried it and it didn’t get me very far. In my experience, it’s the equivalent of getting a quick-fix rather than addressing what’s at the heart of the problem. And, like most quick-fixes, it isn’t very reliable. One day it will get you an extra 1000 words down the line, and another day you’ll manage a sentence at best before your whole routine breaks again as you realise “just write” doesn’t actually work.
But if we can’t “just write“, what can we do? Because beating on bad advice won’t get us anywhere either; we’re going to have to try and be a little proactive in how we address this blockage in our brains. Well the truth is that the solution will probably differ from writer to writer depending on what your creative process is, but I’d still be more than happy to try and elevate your worries with a couple of things that always seemed to help me. With any luck, they should help you too.
- Outside Expectations:
I write so efficiently when I know writing is expected of me from someone other than myself. Knowing that others will be able to scrutinise my work and base opinions on it gives me the motivation required to make sure it is of the quality I want it to be. I get a sense of urgency akin to having a deadline. Speaking of which…
I think one reason this blog has remained outside of my writer’s block is because of the self-imposed deadline I created for myself to post on every Sunday at 6pm. Before being branded Alex’s Review Corner, this blog was a mess. I’d go away for six months and come back to post something random and never feel motivated to do so again. But my desire for consistency, both to build an audience and because I enjoyed the constant stream of writing, obligated me to get it done. For a brief period I was even posting twice a week on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s because I had a lot of free time that I don’t have now. It was a big undertaking and led to posts that weren’t as thoroughly proofread as they may have been and so because of that, as well as my university workload, I stepped my posts back to once a week.
3. “Just Edit“
If you can’t find it in yourself to write down your new ideas, then take a break and refine your old ones instead. Proofread your writing, rework ideas and scan for any research or creative errors you may have missed as you initially wrote. You might as well remain productive in some way, otherwise you’d be best to just give up on writing all together.
4. Refuse Seduction
Perhaps one of the most terrible symptoms of writer’s block, as it arises halfway through an extensive project, is the invasive thought to give up on it and start writing about the latest idea that entered your brain, under the false promise that this will be a much better writing experience. Spoiler alert; It won’t. That sexy new idea is just a one-night-stand with what’s immediately on your mind, and which will also force you to confront writer’s block the moment you realise you paused production on your previous plans to embark on this side quest. Stick to your current ideas and perhaps explore them in different ways – do some more planning and research if you can’t write more of the actual work yet. Do other type of writing – as I do with this blog and journaling.
And that’s all I’ve got for you. I realise it’s much easier to say you should do these things to overcome your writer’s block than it is to actually do them, as I have experienced myself, but it’s better to share the ideas around than to merely complain about how awful “just write” is. I hope by employing some of these things one person might make a break through, even a temporary one.
Sadly there is no one cure for writer’s block. It comes and goes. The problem is that sometimes it comes for longer than you expect, and it can really dampen your spirits. But, y’know, we’ve just got to get on with it and- Wait… Oh no! “just get on with it“! It’s basically a synonym for “just write“. Perhaps, deep down, there is some merit in it’s simplicity.