Are you stuck at a point in your writing of an article/book/blog? You don’t know how and what to write? Does your mind feel empty or blocked?
If the answer to all of the above is yes, then you may be suffering from writer’s block.
You haven’t ever heard of it? Don’t worry, in a few moments, you’ll get to know about its meaning in addition to its causes and cure which will hopefully aid you in addressing the block.
What Is Writer’s Block?
As per the Cambridge dictionary, it is “the condition of being unable to create a piece of written work because something in your mind prevents you from doing it”. And Merriam-Webster describes it as “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece”.
In simple words, a writer’s block is a phenomenon when you don’t know what to write on the page in front of you.
You are bound to face this adversity, irrespective of whether you are a novice or a world-renowned writer.
A Little Bit Of History-
‘Writer’s Block’ was first coined by an American psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler. For 2 decades, he studied and interviewed multiple writers who had creative issues and noted that a blocked writer “unconsciously tries to solve his inner problems via the sublimatory medium of writing.” This means that the block is psychological and it can be removed once the writer is able to solve their psychological problems. With the above analysis and findings, Bergler wrote a paper titled “Does Writer’s Block Exist?” and published it in 1950, in American Imago, a journal founded by Sigmund Freud in 1939.
Bergler’s theory was further proved and expanded by Yale University psychologists, Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios in the 1970s-80s. They gathered a sample of fine and blocked writers from:
- Fiction & Non-fiction
- Poetry & prose
- Stage, and;
The blocked writers had to fit a set of pre-determined criteria:
- they had to present objective proof of their lack of writing progress (affirming, for example, that they had made no progress on their main project)
- attest to a subjective feeling of being unable to write.
- The symptoms had to have lasted for at least three months. (source)
The researchers followed the progress for one month and tested them on about 60 psychological tests. The results were predictably close to what Bergler has noticed; the blocked writers were indeed unhappy. They showed signs of depression, anxiety, increased self-criticism, reduced excitement and pride at work along with obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as repetition, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, and feelings of helplessness and “aversion to solitude”. (You can read the entire article on this research here)
Simply put, a writer’s block is not just a fancy word or something that is used as an excuse when a writer/author is being lazy. It is genuine and has been proven scientifically.
What Are The Causes?
Based on the above research and the general observation of the writers/authors behavior over the years, the following are its causes:
1. Fear & Anxiety:
A lot of writers feel blocked due to fear and anxiety. It may be fear of judgment by the readers, the anxiety of producing a perfect written piece, fear of comparison and criticism, or fear and anxiety of not being good enough.
2. Lack Of Motivation:
Sometimes a writer may not have any motivation to write or even think about any ideas for their article or blog or book. This lack of motivation can either be a direct consequence of fear and anxiety or it may arise due to certain hardships that he is facing. A combination of the above can cause his mind to get exhausted which also results in zero motivation. Even when a writer doesn’t get enough positive reinforcements such as positive feedbacks and praise for their work, their mind seems to reject the thought of writing further.
Some writers can work effectively and produce good results under pressure but this trait doesn’t need to be within everybody. The pressure to produce within a deadline may hinder the writer’s creative thinking process and their mind becomes numb and empty. There can also be a case where owing to the success of their previous writing piece, the writer comes under pressure to produce something of the same standards, which in turn gives rise to our 1st point of fear, i.e., fear of perfection.
Being overly self-critical can be extremely harmful to one’s mental health and it results in unhappiness and lower self-esteem. Writers who have started their careers often tend to compare their writing with well-established writers and it often leads to self-deprecating their work.
“Your thoughts affect how you feel and how you behave. The way you think has the power to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
— Amy Morin
5. Too Many Distractions:
Perhaps one of the most notable causes of every late assignment and report and disrupted study or work schedules. In this era of ever-present technology, and wifi or internet services a mere click away, it is apparent that you get side-tracked from your current writing spree. Google is right there to curb all sorts of curiosity, be it knowing about the history of a place or person, or something as weird as the reasons for you not being a cat person.
The point is, when something is easily accessible, you tend to get diverted from the task at hand.
Distractions can also come from cluttered space. Even though you are busy writing, your peripheral vision is still active. That vision may catch something that you have been searching for days or something you never knew you had. This sudden discovery is more than enough for you to stop writing and start inspecting your finding.
And don’t forget about the continuous noise and TV and mobile and mental chaos!!! The list of distractions is truly endless.
Ways To Cure Writer’s Block
1. Write Whatever Comes To Mind:
Also known as free-writing, many experienced writers recommend this form of writing to work around the block. A blocked writer should get away from their current writing piece and write about things such as the weather, their favorite sport, or simply their thoughts/rants.
“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”, said by Charles Bukowski, author of ‘The Last Night of the Earth Poems’. Isn’t that a great idea too? Who knows, maybe you’ll arrive at a juncture where you figure out your problem.
The idea is to keep your mind engaged and the creative juices flowing. Don’t think about writing the perfect words or sentences, just keep writing.
Scott Barry Kaufman, psychologist and scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of “Wired to Create,” has said, “When one feels writer’s block, it’s good to just keep putting things down on paper—ideas, knowledge, etc.”
2. Create A Routine:
Twyla Tharp says, “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” There are many writers who need to follow a routine to summon their muse/inspiration such as drinking one or two cups of coffee, sitting on the window side which overlooks a tree or a garden, writing with a specific pen, listening to a certain style of music or being completely alone. Some writers have a specific time, such as an early morning or late night, or they sit for long hours at a stretch. By creating a routine, you are programming your mind to buckle up and get its cogs running.
Check out this site to read how famous people have a routine to keep their minds working.
3. Take Breaks:
One of the most effective ways to cure a writer’s block or a creative block is to take a break. Getting away from your work and do certain non-writing activities such as going for a walk, talk to someone whom you trust will give you good suggestion, reading a book, spending time with your family or pet, or even play games. If you have the liberty of taking some time off, take a vacation. A change in scenery is often considered the best way of finding one’s inspiration.
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
― Hilary Mantel, [The Guardian, 25 February 2010]
4. Sometimes, Being Monotonous Works Like Magic:
Doing mundane chores such as cooking, cleaning, washing, or taking a bath is also an effective way to unblock your mind.
It has been scientifically proven that when one area of our brain goes on autopilot, it activates a different area of our brain, where the idea may be hidden. This aspect has been researched and explained by a Washington University psychologist R. Keith Sawyer in his book “Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation” which was published in 2006 (Read the article here).
In layman’s language, when your mind is left to wander without restrictions, you can day-dream and make a connection to your inner self to bring out your lost creative soul.
5. Turn Your Negative Self-criticism Into Positive:
Extreme self-criticism can be bad, but did you know that there also certain positive sides to the self-critic? It depends on how you want to tackle your inner critic. The best way is to acknowledge the criticism and then figure out the ways to work upon those shortcomings.
For example, you are berating yourself on your writing not being up to the standards. First of all, think, what standards are you worried about? Is it the standards you have set for yourself or have they been based on what and who you have read?
The more questions you’ll ask, the more clarity you’ll get on the root cause of these criticisms.
“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ― Erica Jong, The New Writer’s Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career
Start training your mind to see your inner critic as a means to grow and develop a positive outlook for yourself. The moment you sense the criticisms starting to take shape, try to block or counter it with a good thought. There are multiple ways to break the chain of negativity, you just need to find the right resource to tackle it.
6. Strengthen Your Muscles, Physical And Mental:
Exercising has often been the go-to solution for most of the problems. It has been proven to reduce stress and alleviate your mood. The exercises can be of 2 types:
Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist, and author of “Healthy Brain, Happy Life” explains that exercising helps develop new brain cells and an increase in the size of the long term memory storage region of our brain known as the hippocampus. Researches have shown that new brain cell development and an increase in its size have a positive impact on our creative thinking abilities as well.
Also, running or jogging outside will help you in breathing in the fresh air. Fresh air helps in removing fatigue and improving energy levels. A change in your environment also aids in the change in perspective (as stated in point 3 above).
b) Mental or Creative: Just google the words ‘Exercise for Creative thinking’. You will get thousands of search results giving you multiple trips and a range of exercises to get your mind running. Let’s take the blog ‘reedsy’ as an example. This blog has a range of writing prompts, situations, and strategies which will help you in getting back in the game.
There are prompts such as:
- Write a story about someone going back to school as a mature student.
- Write a story involving a conversation that’s packed with subtext; the characters aren’t quite saying what they mean.
- Write a story that either starts or ends with someone asking, “Can you keep a secret?”
There are many options for you to choose from, you just need to decide which one will be more effective.
7. Go Back To The Beginning:
It is possible that even though you have done ample research and created a map of how you want your writing to flow, you will still face this feeling of being lost. Why don’t you revisit the map you created? There are chances that you find certain loopholes or inconsistencies due to which you aren’t able to proceed further. There is also a high possibility that you need more research.
If you are writing a novel or book or story, try looking into your characters and refining them; think about their likes and dislikes, there ambitions and goals, what do they like to do when they are free?
Also, go back to the starting of your story or article and give a read through whatever you have written. There is a possibility that you’ll get an idea to include some crucial information or perhaps plan of action to create a flow in your writing piece.
Below is a wonderful quote by Pope John XXIII,
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
Remember the 1st point of the cause of writer’s block, fear and anxiety? It is our inherent nature to be fearful of the unknown. Whenever you’re starting something new, you tend to overthink situations that may or may not arise in the future. However, if you are experiencing these feelings, take a step back and think, where is that fear coming from?
Have a question-answer session with yourself, such as:
Why are you so afraid of judgments? Be assured that even famous and experienced writers face judgments whenever their new book or article is published. Not everyone is bound to agree or commend whatever you have written.
Does everything need to be perfect? Don’t kill yourself over the mistakes in the 1st, 2nd, or a 3rd draft rather, treat it as a learning opportunity. You should focus on making progress rather than perfectionism.
Am I not confident in my writing? Perhaps you have raised the bar too high for yourself. Relax your mind and delve into the feeling of just writing.
Try following the advice of Malcolm Gladwell:
“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.”
9. Curb The Distractions:
If you want to write seamlessly, you ought to mitigate the multitude of distractions that are in the way. These days, there are many apps such as Freedom, SelfControl (only for Mac users), StayFocused, etc, that can help you to curb the internet distractions.
Try de-cluttering your workspace as well. A well-organized writing space will help you feel mentally organized and calm too. Also, if there is too much noise in your area, search for a space or time frame where there is least to no noise and write as much as you can in that period. Let your family know how important this project is for you and to give you the liberty to be able to write without any distractions.
10. Start From The Middle Or The End:
Now you must be thinking that a few moments ago I talked about going back at the beginning but now I’m telling you to start from the middle? Who even starts from the end?
I haven’t lost my mind, trust me.
Every so often, you are unable to come up with a wonderful opening line or act for your story or article, but you know how you want your story to end. Go ahead and write that ending. Don’t wait for your brain to conjure up the beginning lest you forget the great ending you have already planned. There is no rule that you should start writing from the introduction. The flow/connection can be made when you feel that your article or story has concluded.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
– Louis L’Amour, Author
On A Final Note…
I cannot count the number of times I have faced this dreaded difficulty during my writing binge. It is always a pain to see yourself come so far in your project and suddenly feel empty or exhausted.
One of my favorite way of breaking this block is to talk to my sibling and get their suggestions on how I should continue. I often find myself going back to the beginning of my article or story to see if I missed a plot or a point.
Did you notice the authors or personalities I have quoted in this article? This is also one of the ways to address the writer’s block, they serve as a source of inspiration to keep writing.
Pay heed to what Maya Angelou has said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The objective is to keep writing come what may. I am sure if you follow any one or a combination of the above curative methods, you will succeed in getting rid of the brick wall inside your head.
The moment when…..when…..you…..