Everyone who sets pen to paper or fingers to keyboard will agree writing at times is hard. Yet of all the arts, writers alone seem to suffer a strange affliction known as “Writer’s Block.”
“Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?” -Philip Pullman
Writer’s Block: What’s holding you back?
Writer John Maxwell uncovered 8 mistaken beliefs that keep us from reaching our potential. I believe these same villains are out to destroy our word count.
Any one of these lies can wrestle you into a writer’s block:
The Assumption Gap: “I’ll always know what to write.”
For some writers, their first encounter with writer’s block comes as something of a shock. Where words once flowed like water, the well suddenly runs dry. When ideas sprouted with each step, they never imagined one day tilling the bare soil.
Many of these would-be writers quit when they realize they must crawl as well as fly through their stories. Don’t fall for this one. Be prepared for hard times.
The Knowledge Gap: “I don’t know how to write.”
Perceived lack of skill persuades some writers to put off writing till they “know how to do it properly.” Endless study without practice is a trap. Like many arts, you become a better writer by …writing. Study improves your technique, but practice etches those skills into your bones.
If you’ve been writing on your own for a while, sharpening your craft can also break you out of a rut. Conferences, books, workshops, and critique groups breathe new energy into your writing routine. (You don’t have a writing routine? More on that later!)
“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining–researching–talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” -E. L. Doctorow
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going. You don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
The Timing Gap: “It’s not the right time to write.”
By far the most seductive lie we tell ourselves as writers is “I’ll write tomorrow.” The land of tomorrow stretches out to vast realms of possibility, free of all the stresses, trials and tribulations weighing our shoulders today.
A thousand excuses clamor for you to wait. Your mind grasps every possible reason, employs every dirty trick to prevent you from writing. You must ignore them all. Write something today. Even one sentence triumphs over an empty page.
“Start before you’re ready.” -Steven Pressfield
“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” -Paul Rudnick
“The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it.” – John Maxwell
“Don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” -Pearl S. Buck
The Mistake Gap: “I’m afraid of writing mistakes!”
Writing is a messy business. Get over it. You will write terrible stories on your way to writing great ones. Accept it. Expect to make mistakes every time you sit down to write. Keep writing.
If you put your work out there, you will face rejection many, many, many times. People may laugh at you. These are the facts of writing and the price of mastering your craft. Lower your standards and keep writing.
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” -Maya Angelou
“Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper not eternal bronze: Let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes.” -Jacques Barzun
“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.” -Jennifer Egan
“Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose…not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.” -Anne Sullivan Macy
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” -James Joyce
The Perfection Gap:”I have to find the best way to write this.”
Many stories have shipwrecked against this lie, drafts dashed to pieces in the name of perfection. Insidious as a siren song, it even sounds like wisdom:
“You want to do the best job you can, don’t you?”
“You don’t want to do a bad job with such a good idea, do you?”
The truth is you will never start or finish anything if you insist on perfection.
“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in…it’s actually kind of tragic because you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.” – David Foster Wallace
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” – Margaret Atwood
“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” -James Thurber
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” -Anne Lamott
The Inspiration Gap: “I don’t feel inspired to write.”
For those who write only when “the mood strikes,” I bear a terrible truth. Inspiration isn’t going to bail you out of writer’s block. The muse isn’t coming to save you. You must write when you do not feel like it. You must write when motivation completely fails you, and your fingers move like lead over the keys.
For those who remain true through these dark moments, a small ray of light dawns. You unearth something of worth as you dig through the mud. Your steps become lighter, and you catch your second wind. But you must not wait for these moments to write. You must keep writing. It is the only way out.
“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.”
― H. Jackson Brown Jr.
“The desire to write grows with writing.” -Desiderius Erasmus
“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” – Pyotr Tchaikovsky
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” -Jack London
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” -Stephen King
The Comparison Gap: “I’m not as good a writer as (insert anyone here)”
If you feel like you’re in over your head, you’re in the right place. Surround yourself with better writers, and you’ll surely grow. Their success will inspire you, their optimism will pull you up, and their criticism will sharpen you.
If you are serious about growing, you have to get comfortable with being the low man on the totem pole. Put on a humble spirit and expect to learn, instead of treating life like a competition.
The Expectation Gap: “I thought writing this would be easier.”
Hahaha… sorry. I’m laughing at myself. I think this a lot (take this post for example!). At first, the idea sparkles like wine in the glass, and the words fly. Surely the whole story will be this easy! But the real test of a writer comes when the momentum slows to a crawl. Will you keep writing?
Nothing worthwhile comes quickly or easily. Even if your first draft flies onto the page, editing requires discipline and patience. You have to stay the course to write something of significance.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -Ernest Hemingway
”All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?” -Philip Pullman
So What Now?
So with the lies and deceptions removed, the question remains, are you are a writer?
Make the commitment: “I am a writer.”
So you must write. Do the best you can today, then make it better tomorrow.
Above all, never stop.
“Writer’s block? I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the morning and writing for a living.” -Warren Ellis
“Failure? I never encountered it. All I ever met were temporary setbacks.” -Dottie Walters
“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.” -Ray Bradbury
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” -Thomas Edison
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” -Richard Bach
“You fail only if you stop writing.” -Ray Bradbury
What about you? How do you beat writer’s block?
(Stay tuned for great tricks – yours might be one of them!)