Almost all of us experience writer’s block sooner or later, although some people never do. It’s the inability to write at all, as opposed to being temporarily stuck somewhere in the writing process, usually in the DRAFTING stage.
Some people deny there is such a thing as writer’s block, but I’ve been there several times, and can guarantee you it’s real and painful. You feel like you have nothing to say, or that your writing is hopelessly inept, or that everything you’ve ever written is junk, or all of the above. Once into writer’s block, you can’t see any way out; you’re doomed. Your literary career is over; you might have to sell insurance or become a tunnel guard.
If you get depressed enough, you might take the easy way out: plagiarism. I’ll write a post later on plagiarism, but essentially it’s submitting somebody else’s work as your own. Resist this urge. Plagiarism is not just dishonest; it’s also usually fatal to careers. Sooner or later, you’ll get caught, especially in our age of universal search capabilities. Then you’re a pariah.
What causes writer’s block? From the list of symptoms in that second paragraph above, you can see that it’s failure of confidence. You just suddenly realize that you can’t do it anymore, and when you sit down to type, nothing comes out. As a writing coach, I’ve helped a lot of writers, including Julia Child, dig their way out of writer’s block. Here’s how to save yourself.
Since failure of confidence causes writer’s block, restoring confidence pulls you out of it. You think about something you’re written in the past that really worked, that people praised, that you were proud of. Then you recall the whole history of that piece, how you did it, beginning with the idea, all the way through publication. Then you ask yourself what worked in that piece and how you made it work.
And then you say to yourself, “I could do it then, so I can do it now.” And then you type something, anything, without judging it. And praise yourself and start writing again.
How do you prevent blockage in the first place? One way to think about writer’s block is that your Internal Critic finally screams so loud that he shuts you down. Mine never yells below 110 decibels, taunts like “You’ve wasted your entire life writing talentless drivel! Everybody knows you’re an idiot! Stop inflicting yourself on people!”
Our Internal Critics keep twanging our failure button. Jon Favreau, President Obama’s chief speechwriter, said, “If you start thinking about what’s at stake, it can get paralyzing.” When you think about what’s at stake, you’re thinking about failing. At the deepest level, you’re thinking about yourself. Yourself failing.
Of course, you can’t not think about something. If you try to think about not failing, your Internal Critic salivates. But you can think about something else.
So you never think of yourself with your fingers on the keys, unless you’re writing autobiography or a memoir. Otherwise, you’re off the subject. You think about the subject you’re trying to write, not about yourself writing it. Say things out loud like these:
Type to the end. (I use this one a lot.)
What do I want to say here?
This is just a draft.
If all else fails, turn the screen off and just type.
[Had any experience overcoming writer’s block?]