I’ll be honest; I don’t understand writer’s block.
The idea that you can’t write or have nothing to write about is foreign to me.
You’re a writer, of course, you always have something to write about.
For me, the issue has always been having too much to write about, not less.
I also always associated writer’s block with fiction writers. I could sort of understand not knowing what direction your novel is headed or what your characters might say next.
But a non-fiction writer?
As a freelance writer, writing is how I eat, so while there are days where the writing doesn’t come easily, the idea that the words aren’t coming at all is not an option.
No words. No money.
No money. No food.
Before we get to how to beat writer’s block, let’s define it first.
Merriam-Webster defines writer’s block as:
A psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.
That’s a simple enough definition, and one that’s a nice way of saying that writer’s block is all in your head.
And if it is just in your head, it can be fixed.
Famous writers and writer’s block
Of course us little guys may experience writer’s block from time to time.
If you’re new to writing, I’d imagine you’d be especially susceptible to experiencing writer’s block.
But what about famous writers?
What to do they have to say about it?
Here a few thoughts on the subject from famous authors and journalists.
Dorthy Allen | Author
She Who got in trouble. You know how redneck girls are. I, for the first time in my life, experienced writer’s block, which was something I attributed to the middle-class motherfuckers. Working class writers, we didn’t have time to have writer’s block, or emotional energy. We couldn’t afford it. I must’ve somehow crept into the middle class, because it hit me like a train. I realized, I knew how it was supposed to end, but I couldn’t make it end. Michael Chabon talks about his second novel that became thirty-five thousand pages. . . . I think She Who is pushing that. So, it’s in a huge box, some of which is at Duke University.
Mary Heaton Vorse | Journalist
‘Writer’s block… a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out, and the word PLUMBER substituted. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day? The fact is that writing is hard work.’ Philip Pullman, British author
‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.’
Benjamin Law | Journalist
“I step away from the computer and swim. I really wish someone had told me earlier that there’s a relationship between writing and exercise. Writing involves you being completely, revoltingly sedentary while your brain works overtime. But when you exercise, it’s the complete reverse — you more or less become brain dead while your body works like a bastard not to drown/collapse on the treadmill/die. Then after I exercise, I always come back to my laptop, and it’s like I’m seeing the story for the first time. I know what I need to do. It’s almost Biblical, like scales falling off my eyes or something.”
Carmen Maria Machado | Author
I believe so strongly that writers need to read, and that reading is the way you can prevent writer’s block or get over writer’s block. You can’t keep writing if you’re not filling your gas tank with whatever you want to read. So I’m sure that as I keep reading narratives, they’ll keep speaking to me in their own ways, and I’ll be turning back out stories that have been flavored by whatever I’ve been reading.
As you can see, the opinions on writer’s block are just as varied among famous writers as they are among us less famous ones.
I’m clearly of theMary Heaton Vorse line of thinking when it comes to writer’s block, and as a working-class writer who’s never been middle class, I can relate to some of what Dorthy Allen has to say as well.
However, if you do suffer from writer’s block, then it is as real to you as breathing, how do you combat it?
Kicking writer’s block out your life for good
Part of the reason I never experience writer’s block is that I have ideas coming out of my pores.
Outside of what is running around in my head, I write down any idea I may have in my handy dandy, very girl, writing a journal.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t write down at least one idea — often several ideas — in my notebook.
If any day I wake up and I either don’t want to write what I have scheduled for the day or didn’t schedule anything to write, I just open my handy-dandy journal, scan the content ideas and choose one.
You can’t ever run out of ideas if you keep a constant list of them available.
Even if you’re struggling with putting words on paper, once you have a solid idea in place, even if the writing is a slog, you can at least get an article done and ready to publish.
That’s the beauty of keeping an idea list: it removes the main obstacle that’s likely preventing you from writing.
So how do you apply this very simple idea to your life?
- Get a journal, use your phone, a spreadsheet, or whatever device of your choice.
- Each day you’re going to write down five ideas for articles. They don’t have to be great; they just have to be done. Inspiration is available everywhere. I was inspired to write this article after I read an article by another writer.
- When you’re feeling blocked, refer to the list. Choose an article. Write it and mark it off in your journal, so you know you’ve written it.
- Repeat. Forever.
While I’m no fan of the idea writer’s block, I do believe planning helps solve most problems before they arise.
Keeping an ongoing list of ideas ready and waiting to be written can instantly help you conquer whatever mental block you’re experiencing when it comes to your writing.