5 Things About Writer’s Block No One Tells You – Skinny Artist

5 Things About Writer’s Block No One Tells You

Overcoming writer's block

I’ve got nothing

How many times have you sat down in front of your computer to work on your latest blog post or writing project only to discover that you’ve got nothing to say.

I know it’s happened to me, and it’s probably happened to you. In fact the only people who never get writer’s block are the ones who never try to write anything.

However, this isn’t just an issue for us neurotic writers. This type of creative paralysis can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a painter, a musician, a choreographer, or someone who crochets sweaters for cats — whenever you try to create something new, chances are you’re going to get stuck somewhere along the way.

Having said that, we’re going to use writers as our example because “creative block” sounds pretty lame.

 

#1 It’s not permanent

Even though when you’re stuck in the middle of it you may feel like it will never end, writer’s block will eventually go away as long as you keep writing (or attempting to write ).

It can be hard to know the best way to get through these types of creative droughts because sometimes you just need to keep banging your head on the keyboard, while other times you may need to step away from it and let your writer’s block run its course like the flu.

Either way, writer’s block won’t last forever so it might be a good time to restock your creative well by reading more books, copying passages from the masters, or even getting your pasty little self outdoors for a few minutes to soak up some sunshine. 

If you’re afraid you can’t write, the answer is to write. ~Richard Rhodes

 

#2 Everyone gets it

You don’t get writer’s block because you’re special or because you are being punished by the universe.

You’re not defective and you are definitely not alone. The only reason someone gets writer’s block is because they had the guts to write something and writing is not always as easy as it looks.

Writer’s block is simply part of the creative process.

Let’s face it, sometimes words will easily flow through our fingertips and sometimes they won’t. The key is to give them every opportunity to do so. This may mean sitting down to write even when you have nothing to say, or it might mean writing page after page of random crap until things eventually sort themselves out.



#3 Inspiration comes from working not waiting

One of my favorite quotes is from the author Jack London who once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”  This comes from a man who wrote over 50 books, dozens of articles, collections of poetry, and essays within a period of just over 20 years. So the man knows what he’s talking about when it comes to sitting down and getting to work.

By writing much, one learns to write well. ~Robert Southey

You can’t wait around for inspiration to find you. You’ve got to be writing and creating even if it’s on something completely unrelated to what you want to be working on.

Sometimes you need to force yourself to write crap.

Sit down, open up a blank text file, and just get your fingers moving. Use this as an opportunity to sort out that idea that’s been swirling around inside your mind but you just can’t seem to get your head around.

Write down all of those disjointed random thoughts that don’t seem to fit anywhere but are too good to just throw away. That’s the beauty of this type of exercise — it doesn’t have to flow, have a logical order, or even make sense. This is not something you’ll probably ever read again but simply a way for your subconscious thoughts to organize and work themselves out.

Sometimes you may also need to get out of the house and out of your routine to write

Grab a notebook and a pen and head to your local library or a quiet corner of your favorite coffee shop. If the weather is nice get outside, go to a park and take a walk. When you find a comfortable spot, just pull out your notebook and write. Don’t try to push through what you’ve been stuck on, just write about whatever is going through your head.

The point is to simply get your words and ideas moving again.

 

#4 Writer’s block is often fear in disguise

Ask any type of creative artist when they get stuck and most of them would tell you the same thing. We tend to get stuck at the beginning of a new project, and then again when we’re close to completing it.

It doesn’t matter whether your are staring at a blank page or an empty canvas, beginnings are hard.

Part of it is that we are never 100% sure if we are working on the right project to begin with, so the doubts start creeping in. What if this new idea is stupid? What if I don’t have the skills/talent/experience to pull this off? What if I’m just wasting my time? Instead of writer’s block, maybe it should be called writer’s doubt.

Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer.
~Kurt Vonnegut

We also tend to get stuck near the end of our projects.

In other words, if the beginning of a project doesn’t completely shut you down, you can look forward to the ‘almost done blues’. This is usually when fear really rears its ugly head and we start second-guessing every decision we’ve made up to that point.

We also tend to freeze up at the end because we’re afraid of being judged.

We hesitate to finish our project not only because our final result falls short of our original vision, but also the idea of having to stare at another blank page scares the crap out of us.

 

#5 It’s not going away

The last (not so) bit of good news, is that writer’s block is never really something that we outgrow.

Despite what you may have read on the internet, there is no “cure” for writer’s block. We can’t outrun it, avoid it, or pretend it doesn’t exist — because as long as you’ve got the nerve to write or create something, it will always come back. It’s simply the nature of the beast.

All we can do is keep pushing ourselves forward and find a way to work through it. We need to have faith in ourselves and our ability to create, taking comfort in the fact that if we’ve done it once, we can do it again.

Fear and doubt may never leave us alone, but we don’t have to let it stop us.

 

How do you deal with getting stuck?

What do you do when your creative imagination shuts down?
What kind of things have you done to snap yourself out of it and get back to work?
Do you think overcoming writer’s block gets easier over time?

 

Image courtesy of djking cc

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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(10) comments

When I’m out of inspiration, it’s usually due to stress or having so much going on that I have little time for (or by) myself… it’s like I mentally shut down at that point and have nothing left to contribute to creative pursuits, if that makes sense. I’ll put my headphones on and listen to whatever music I’m in the mood for, and zone out by playing Solitaire on the computer. It sounds strange, but it’s the way I recharge. My mind doesn’t have to think about anything beyond the music so I can get lost in it while my hands absentmindedly click the mouse and move the cards around. It’s like driving on autopilot – ever have those times where you can’t really remember the drive from point A to point B, but you just got out of the car at point B so you know it had to have happened? During that time, your mind softly drifted wherever it wanted to while your body drove the machine, but when the trip was over you found yourself exactly in the place where you needed to go.

I can’t say if it’s the music itself that sparks inspiration, or if it’s the fact that my mind isn’t being forced to come up with ideas for a little while, but one way or another it seems to open the pipes up again. For me, at least.

Reply

    Thanks Alison for stopping by sharing your thoughts with us and I think you’re right about the importance of getting out of your head in order to recharge. We seem to live in this culture where we are told to keep going and keep pushing harder until we succeed. Even though I think this idea of persistence works well if we are talking about our overall career, but on a daily basis, I think there is something to be said for respecting the ebb and flow of your creative process. Although we might be able to force productivity, I think it’s far more difficult to force creativity.

    Music is always a good option to unwind, however for myself, I find that I usually need to physically change locations. Get away from the computer, go to the bookstore, take the dog for a walk, or even (if I’m really desperate) hit the gym. I find that I usually need some kind of physical activity to release all the mental congestion inside my head.

    Reply
Mia

When I read this, it struck my heart unexpectedly. I used to be able to create such wonderful stories as a child, a love that followed me through college to be a Sequential Artist. Due to funds I was unable to finish my schooling. Something will not let go of the creative aspect, a part of me really does scream “Where did it all go?!” And sitting down and staring at a canvas to paint, or a blank screen to type, or a piece of paper to write in, it all just feels like a lie. Perhaps I am afraid of taking the title, but only because I feel underachieved and so old in the face of others that still fighting for their dream. Thanks for such a good read. :)

Reply

    Thank you so much Mia for letting me know that this post was able to connect with you. I’ve always said one of the biggest dangers in living this creative life is that too often we feel alone in it.

    I think there are a lot of us out there who feel underachieved and on the verge of being too late to make significant contribution to our art. It’s not too late for any of us. Who knows what we may have become if we had started sooner, focused more, or worked harder — but it doesn’t really matter. We can only start with this moment. All we can do is pick up our paintbrush, dust off our keyboard, and do what we can with what we have. That feeling in your gut is there for a reason. It is telling you that you need to honor that part of yourself, even if it’s only for yourself. Now get to work :)

    Reply

[…] into a creative funk is not the same thing as having writer’s block, which is when you may find yourself temporarily […]

Reply
Butler

Yeah! I’m sorry but thats all can write. Stuck in a rut and its kicking my butt. Thanks for the post!

Reply

As I do with everything in life, I just push through it. I can honestly say, however, I’ve never been hit hard with writer’s block. Usually, it means I’m not focused and I need to get alone with my thoughts. Because I’m a lifelong professional singer-songwriter and have faced mental lethargy many, many times, I borrow from that experience when writing. With music, I just play until something comes. With books, I write until something comes. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. Doing this with pen and paper really helps; once the debris is cleared I then go to my laptop.

Reply

    Although being unfocused and distracted is pretty much a constant with me, I absolutely agree that sometimes you just have to find a way to start the process and then keep going until something comes. It always reminds me of that famous quote by Picasso that says, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” This idea of movement to prime the creative well is something that often gets forgotten. We wait around to come up with that one really good idea before we get started, instead of simply picking up the guitar or paintbrush and getting to work.

    Reply
epigeios

I find writer’s block to be quite simple. It’s my intuition’s way of telling me that what I’m trying to write is stupid, that I should scrap that idea entirely and never look back on it.

Let’s say, for example, I was writing a traditional good vs evil fantasy story, and everything has led up to the climax battle at the end. I’m about to start writing the climax, and all of a sudden- writer’s block. Now, this battle HAS to happen. Everything has lead up to this point. What do I do?
Don’t write the battle. My idea was wrong. I need to write something else here instead. Instead of trying to figure out how to begin writing this battle, I scrap it entirely and try to figure out what I can write instead. Perhaps I left behind an important side character, and this bit needs to be from that character’s perspective, or perhaps the battle can’t even happen unless that character is present. Perhaps the battle itself is boring, and I should cut directly to the aftermath. Perhaps the battle is so epic that it can’t be adequately described, so I should use a different method such as writing about it’s immediate effect on a nearby town. No matter what I do, however, the original idea I had was wrong and needs to be scrapped, and replaced with something different.

Reply

    I agree with you in the fact that writer’s block is often our subconscious mind’s way of sending us a message. Sometimes it may be telling us that we’re on the wrong track, and sometimes it may be telling us that we need to dig a little deeper or approach things from a slightly different angle. The danger here, however, is when we give into the blockage and take it as a “sign” that we should stop. Sometimes being blocked is an emotional response (fear, doubt, etc…) which is often when we may need to put our head down and push through until our emotional state changes. Sometimes, however, as you mentioned the blockage may also come from a logical disconnect. This can happen when you realize that something doesn’t make any sense at this particular point in the story, or you find that your character is suddenly heading down a dead end path. This is when you have to be willing to let it go and change direction instead of trying to force it into the narrative. This isn’t always easy to do, especially if you like what you have written.

    The problem is that sometimes fear and doubt disguises itself as flawed logic and vice versa, so you have to be careful and take the time to figure out if it’s time to change course or simply push through.

    Reply
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