There is no such thing as writer’s block
That’s right. I said it. There is no such thing as writer’s block.
When writers become stuck in their process, the usual suspect causes are procrastination, fear, doubt, lack of research, lack of brainstorming, lack of idea-brewing time, lack of purpose, anxiety (about the subject matter, a deadline, etc.), diminished passion for the existing work, uncertainty, and a desire for perfection (knowing instinctively that this is impossible). I may have missed some, but these are the essential blocks to a writer’s progress at any stage of the writing process.
Let’s look at a few and think about how to deal with them.
Procrastination. We all do it. We know the paper, article, essay, story is due and we put it off, usually for one of the other reasons on the above list. Also, maybe we are so damned busy at work and at home that there is just no mental energy or literal time to tackle this piece just now. Sometimes, we must prioritize and that essay or story isn’t always at the top of the list. Notice I don’t list “laziness” as a reason for writer’s block. I’m pretty sure all writers think we are “being lazy” when we aren’t writing, but that is a negative judgment that we imagine society imposing upon us for our “lack of productivity,” so we abuse ourselves with this internal whip. I know lots of writers. And none of them are lazy. Procrastination happens and that’s okay because the work always gets done.
Idea-brewing time. Like tea, wine, and cheese, ideas need time to fully mature. You may have felt a jolt of inspiration for a poem during a writing class, but then get home and no words come to mind. Or perhaps you were inspired by a conversation you overheard on the subway and think you can create a short fiction story, but when you sit down to write, only boring, unfocused, and overly detailed writing without purpose lands on the screen. Sometimes, when inspiration strikes, you may sit down and pound out 2,500 words without stopping or thinking and then look back at the text and think, my god, how did that happen?! Great. That has happened to me, too. But that is not what happens every time. Most of the time, our ideas need time to brew and roll around in our conscious and subconscious minds. Not all ideas are ready-made for the page the moment they come to us; most ideas only work once mature. So give your idea a chance and move on to something else for the time being instead of forcing it.
Diminished passion for the existing work. I can’t tell you how often this happens to me and every writer I know. When I was working on my dissertation, I reached a critical point where I just wanted to be done already. I had read and revised and re-thought every moment, every theorist, every example, every claim so many times that I was word-weary and just bored. I loved my project and hated it all at once. When I was a journalist, sometimes the article subject matter was a bit dry and I really had to work hard to make it interesting for a general public audience. Procrastination often sounded more appealing than doing that work because that work is difficult to do. Perhaps you started writing a novel last year and you’ve been whittling away at chapters and scenes and slowly, over time, you’ve lost interest in your own story, but you plod along diligently, probably figuring that as long as you stick with it, the sunshiney enthusiasm you initially felt will return. Bzzzzz. Wrong. If you have reached a point in your creative writing project where YOU, the AUTHOR, are bored and disinterested, there is nowhere to go but down. Close the file. Step away from the computer. Forget about that piece. Start something new and fresh. Perhaps in a year’s time, you will return to that drudgery piece with fresh eyes and new insights to breathe life into its dying form. Until then, start afresh on something else. Diminished passion is a tough problem, but sometimes time is your friend, so take all you need.