I’m a “jobbing writer.” That means, every day I need to sit in front of my computer and create articles, e-books, and other long-form written content for my clients.
I can’t afford to have writer’s block (literally!) If I don’t write – I don’t earn. Simple as.
And yet, believe me, just because I tend to write three to five hours (sometimes more) each weekday doesn’t mean it comes especially easy to me.
There are days when my brain creaks, words stall, and ideas are cloudy.
There are even days when just the feel of my fingers on the keyboards feels off.
These are all forms of writer’s block.
From slight to severe
True, a severe form of the condition may see you out of writing action for months or sometimes years. But often even that starts with small stumbles and perceived inabilities that then accumulate over time.
Feeling like you can’t write when you want to or – as in my case – you have to, can debilitate you even more, sending you into a spiral of panic to the soundtrack of that familiar classic “I’m a Worthless Fraud Who Couldn’t Write a Decent Shopping List.”
That’s why it’s important to have some strategies in place to beat back writer’s block when it starts to sneak up on you.
Different writers need different approaches, but here are a few to get you moving beyond the blank screen.
Set up a ritual
Toni Morrison is one of the many writers who has noted the relevance of a personal ritual to set you up for a good day’s writing. This could be as simple as brewing a coffee before you write (this is Ms. Morrison’s ritual), putting on a favourite CD (Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, does this), or anything else that helps you ease into that unique writing space.
Do something else
Often when we’re stuck the only way to become “unstuck” is to change direction.
Going for a walk (my personal favourite), making something nourishing to eat, taking a bath or a snooze, or just sitting down with a journal and pen, can scale back some of the stress you might be feeling.
It can also help you gain some space within which to think clearly and calmly about your next steps.
Read a book
Reading other people’s published words might seem like it’ll compound the misery of not being able to write yourself. But I’ve found it to have the opposite effect.
For a writer, words are the lifeblood of what you want to achieve. Reading others’ work, whether it’s a page-turning novel or a smartly written article, gives you insight into your own craft.
You can discover new ways to use words or create a compelling sentence. You’ll be drawn to certain styles that may help you to define your own.
And just as important, the better the book or blog post you engage with, the deeper the break you can have from your own writing problems.
You may find that by the time you’ve finished reading, you’re ready to return re-energised to your own words.
This last suggestion may seem to conflict with all the earlier advice. However, sometimes the only way to get beyond the struggle is to muscle through it.
Writing can be difficult, and despairing, and frustrating – for all writers. But still, we feel compelled to keep going. And sometimes, “to keep going” is all we can do.
Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Maya Angelou have advocated for “showing up,” and writing through a block. The writing may be dreadful, but it’s the momentum that matters.
In fact, Maya Angelou didn’t even like to use the expression “writer’s block,” stating in Naomi Epel’s book Writers Dreaming, that it gives the idea “too much power.”
Instead, her belief was that every word, wonderfully wrought or prosaic to the last, was writing.
And maybe that’s the best advice of all because it implies we shouldn’t worry or overthink about our abilities and our craft. And, after all – isn’t that what often causes writer’s block in the first place?