Writer’s block. Even reading the words gives you chills.
It’s the bane of every writer’s existence. It keeps us up at night, tossing, turning and agonizing over those few more words we need to put on the page before our book, blog, or report is finished.
But I’m here to tell you something, folks: writer’s block isn’t actually a thing.
That’s right. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. It’s a made-up concept that people tell themselves to get out of writing.
It’s nothing more than an excuse.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used writer’s block as an excuse. I used it just the other day to put off writing this article. But I don’t fool myself into thinking that it’s some imaginary wall that I have to climb, or a river I have to wade through to get to the far bank where inspiration and masterpiece live.
The simple fact is that you don’t hear visual artists talking about “artist’s block”, or doctors blaming their inability to do surgery on “doctor’s block.”
So if writer’s block doesn’t exist, what is that feeling you get when you want to write, but just can’t?
Writer’s block is most commonly procrastination.
It’s when you sit down at that desk to write, but you’d rather be doing a million other things. Like watching that new Netflix special, reading that book, or playing that game. Hell, maybe you’d rather be doing the dishes or cleaning your toilet!
Whatever it is, you want to procrastinate. You don’t want to write right now.
So you blame your lack of motivation on writer’s block and move on. Because hey, if you have writer’s block there is nothing you can do right?
News flash: you’re just being lazy.
I blame my procrastination on writer’s block all the time, but eventually I have to sit down and start writing. And guess what? The words begin to flow once I get over myself.
So next time you have “writer’s block” that’s really procrastination in disguise, sit down and force yourself to do the work that’s in front of you.
When I first learned that writer’s block didn’t exist, the next apparent reason I was given for my apparent inability to write was my own perfectionism.
I read an article that said something like, “writer’s block is just your brain telling you that your words aren’t good enough for the page.” That triggered my epiphany.
If you know me, you know I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my work. I get it from my mother. (If you’re reading this, Mom, you know it’s true.) Yes, my room may be an utter disaster and my pages may be wrinkly when they get to you (I didn’t say I was type A), but the words on the page will be as perfect as I can possibly get them.
Which is why I procrastinate, because I know what a struggle it is for me to write anything.
You see, I don’t do revisions. I write something, proof it once or twice, and then send it in. I agonize over every word in the early drafts so I don’t have to revise later. That leads to an intense battle inside my head.
Luckily, revising is a part of the screenwriting and television writing processes, and I’ve learned to accept it and love it. But I’d be lying if I said I still don’t try to get it perfect the first time.
So what do you do when you’re a perfectionist?
You force yourself to write a bit sloppier. At first it will feel like blasphemy, but you’ll get used to it after a while. If you just say “fuck it” and write what’s on your mind instead of agonizing over the right way to put it, you’ll see that writer’s block really isn’t the thing that’s ailing you.
This may or may not go hand in hand with perfectionism, but another reason you may be feeling what you call “writer’s block” is because you’re scared.
I’m scared to write.
Every time I sit down at my computer to start, I’m terrified I won’t get it right. I’m terrified the words won’t flow. I’m terrified a meteor will come crashing to earth right when I’m in the middle of writing a great sentence. I’m an anxious person, what can I say?
Fear is natural –– especially for writers. We have to fight it every day. It’s our job to be emotional and to turn that emotion into creativity. If you find that you can’t do that, you may blame it on writer’s block.
It’s tough for me to tell you how to conquer your fears, because I have yet to conquer mine. But the simple act of understanding that fear, and seeing it for what it is, will help more than you can possibly imagine.
Sorry, but this just might be the case.
Some people just aren’t natural writers.
Not to cause more fear on your part, but if none of the above causes of “writer’s block” match your trouble writing, it might just be because you don’t know how.
To be a writer, you need to practice day in and day out. Most people take classes to learn the craft, or even get degrees in writing. If you’re not one of those people, the odds are already stacked against you. Natural talent only gets you so far. To write something –– and I mean seriously write something ––you need to understand how to write.
That’s not to say you can’t learn, but as I said, some people just aren’t natural writers.
So what do you do if you simply lack the ability to write? I don’t want to tell you to just give up; you should never do that. So instead, I’ll tell you to work harder. Take master classes. Read books and blogs. Practice. Practice. Practice.
You’ll gain the ability over time, and it will become easier to write.
The community of writers and non-writers alike have romanticized writer’s block.
When you say you have writer’s block, people relate to you. You become part of a rather large, but elite group of struggling writers. You see yourself as the next Ernest Hemingway, locked in your office in front of a typewriter with crumpled pieces of paper strewn about. There may be some liquor involved, or maybe some nachos. To struggle is art, isn’t it?
When you struggle, you become part of the in-crowd.
Can we just stop that?
First of all, writer’s block isn’t a thing and second, romanticizing bad things isn’t healthy. You wouldn’t romanticize a bad relationship (unless you’re Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey), so why would you romanticize fear? Or procrastination? Or inabilities? Or failure to do something? Third, you don’t have to struggle to create art. Who in the world made up that rule? You create art when you are inspired. So stop romanticizing something that stifles inspiration.
With the knowledge that writer’s block doesn’t exist, I’ve been able to overcome whatever has been making it difficult to write.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s my job to write, and that it’s what makes me money and keeps me alive. So I have to do it.
If you’re suffering from “writer’s block”, I advise you to determine what the problem is. Figure out if it’s procrastination, perfectionism, fear, or lack of ability, and solve the problem.
How do you determine what the real ailment is? Often times it takes some serious soul searching. It’s not easy to admit to yourself that you’re scared or that you lack the ability to do something. If you come to that conclusion, you’re already ahead of the game.
Once you’ve determined what the real problem is, remember my advice above. If it’s procrastination: bite the bullet and force yourself to write. If it’s perfectionism: practice writing a bit sloppier. If it’s fear: work on conquering that fear. And if it’s lack of ability: practice, practice, practice.
That last one goes for all of you. Practice makes everything easier. Forcing yourself to sit down and write will, in the long run, make it easier to write.
But above all else, be a professional about your writing, and you’ll write like a professional.
Without writer’s block.
Erika Rasso graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English and marketing and is currently working on her MFA in Screenwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has worked as a writing consultant, an editor for a literary journal, and an editor for an academic journal. In her free time, Erika enjoys writing short stories and screenplays (though mostly she just watches WAY too many shows on Netflix). She is the Director of Production for Craft Your Content.