Writer’s Block is Not A Valid Excuse
Yes, we all complain, me included, about this horrible thing called writer’s block. It creeps in when we most need it to stay away. It squishes those ideas that were just about to bloom into something fantastic. It shows up at the umpteenth hour when we have to get that pitch in TOMORROW and the words just. aren’t. coming.
We rant and rail against it! Oh no, the damned writer’s block! Until it shifts, I can’t get anything done. Every piece of advice everyone has ever given me on how to get through it is to just. keep. writing. But, what if I can’t?
I recently told one of my coworkers that I don’t believe writer’s block is a realthing. He looked at me like I was bonkers.
“Why would you say that?” He asked.
Well, I explained, I never feel blocked because I don’t want to write. What prevents me from doing what I want? It’s not an external barrier, it’s an internal one. No one else opened up my head and stuck it in there just to spite me. I created it. Why did I need to?
99% of the time I experience writer’s block, it’s because I’m avoiding something I don’t want to face.
I am an anxious person. There is no avoiding this, no matter how hard I might try. Writing is one of the few things that can sort out the minefield that is my mind safely and effectively. The problem comes when I start avoiding writing because I don’t want to face what I’m experiencing.
I make excuses: I don’t have time. My wrists are sore. My head is fuzzy. I’ve been writing emails all day. I don’t have any good ideas. I can’t think. I’m too tired. I’m not ready. Can’t I just read someone else’s story?
I don’t write one day because it doesn’t feel particularly safe. The next day, I judge myself for not writing. Then the anxiety creeps in because of all the judgements I’m making up. Finally, I start avoid the thing that seems to have made me anxious in the first place — writing.
Writer’s block is defined as “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”
This may seem like an over-simplification of the literal idea that has plagued writers for centuries. Still, I think it’s salient to reframe our perspective around the cause of this feeling, instead of its presence. Writer’s block is not a brick wall that suddenly sprung up inside our minds. It’s fear.
A few things that stop me from writing (more often than I’d like):
Fear of being bad
The need to be perfect
Not feeling good enough
Wanting to numb
When I really buckle down and think about it, I write because I want to be honest — I want to have integrity. I want to share my emotional experience (my truth) with others, and forge connections with them. I want to touch other hearts and other minds, mine the deep, dark secrets of humanity and bring them into the light so others can follow suit.
A lofty goal, I admit, but it centers in on what I believe to be the most important ingredient in dealing with writer’s block.
Writing is, inherently, an emotional experience.
If I’m avoiding writing, I’m choosing control and power over pain. Really not as great as it sounds, I promise. Writing doesn’t always have to be a rip your heart out and splatter blood all over your keyboard type of experience. It does have to feel open. In order for me to get into that elusive “flow,” I have to be open and present to whatever I’m feeling in the moment.
Sometimes, I don’t feel very open. Sometimes, I’d rather lock that shit down while fervently praying that it will be magicked out of my mind when I most need it to be. Everyone deserves a mental health day. That mental health day does not have to include you bearing the depths of your soul on the page for the world to see, or, just, for you to see. Sometimes we’re too much to look at, and that’s OK. But please, don’t call it writer’s block. Call it for what it feels like: too much.
How to get through it:
I know this isn’t exactly what you want to hear, but sometimes, writing through the block is only going to make you feel more vulnerable and helpless than you felt before. If you feel blocked, and writing doesn’t help,
The block probably has nothing whatsoever to do with what you’re working on. You may be feeling overwhelmed by your current workload, which could be bringing up feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome. You might be writing this piece because you’re totally broke and you really need that paycheck, which could be bringing up feelings of shame and worthlessness. You might be feeling lonely, or judging yourself for being at this particular point in your life too early or too late. You might really need to clean your apartment, or feed yourself a decent meal. You might need to talk to someone in person instead of online.
Regardless of what’s really happening, you need to ask yourself this question:
What are you truly longing for in this moment?
If you’re being honest with yourself, what do you truly want, right now? Beyond money, beyond material possessions, beyond control and surety and stability. Do you want meaningful connections with other humans? Do you want to feel fulfilled creatively? Do you want to trust that you can take care of your own needs?
The key is getting curious.
If you can get through that mental block by writing, more power to you! I’m only able to do that once I get curious about what’s happening. Try naming the feeling. Get to the simplicity of “I feel….numb, angry, lonely, hungry, ashamed, depressed, flighty, scared, etc.” Put on your investigator’s hat and do a little digging. Why might you be feeling this way? What external influences are working on you? What internal walls are you creating?
Then try “I want.” “I want….donuts!” Will that take down the block? Probably not…That’s the little kid in your brain telling you they don’t feel safe. OK, “I want to take a walk.” Good, that’s a start. Try seeing what’s under that. Why do you want to talk a walk? Is it the fresh air? Is it the movement? Is it the break from your thoughts?
Once you get clear on what you’re feeling, why you might be feeling that way, and what you truly want — I can guarantee the block will become clear. Spotlights will illuminate this annoyingly ephemeral thing and make it known to you. Once you become aware of what’s causing the block, you also become equipped to take it down.
Once you know why you created it, you won’t need it anymore.
Stop using writer’s block as an excuse to not write.
Acknowledge that something in you needs to avoid writing. Then go find out what it is. It will make you a better writer.