Stick with me. I know the title might have your blood up because you’re stuck on your project, but I promise I’m trying to help. Take a deep breath and keep reading. We’re in this together.
The term “writer’s block” is loosely used to identify a state in which a writer isn’t writing. There are whole books and forums dedicated to writer’s block and how to overcome it, and I shake my head at them often. Why? Because I don’t think writer’s block exists in the format many people ascribe to. Yes, we can hit dry spells or periods in our life where writing becomes difficult, and every word on the page feels like crap and we want to cry. That’s valid. That’s real, but the problem isn’t this ephemeral idea of writer’s block.
The problem I have with the term is this: it’s too vague. People run into problems writing (or creating in general) for a million unique reasons, so lumping all those reasons under one umbrella that doesn’t give real advice on how to deal with your specific problems doesn’t do you justice, and it won’t help you figure out what’s really causing you trouble. Following that line of logic: if you don’t know (or try to discern) the cause of your trouble then how can you fix it?
So, if it’s not writer’s block, what is it?
That is a valid question. If we tackle the monster and tell writer’s block to go to its corner, we can dig into the reasons we are struggling. I know my most frequent issue is burnout. Given that I am an editor, I spend my days up to my eyeballs in other people’s work providing triage. I love my job, don’t get me wrong, but I spend most of my creative energy and work on other people’s material. When I boot up my Word processor, set my tea on my desk, and slap my headphones into place I stare at my screen, and nothing happens. Creative burnout often steals my mental energy for writing. That’s not ephemeral, it’s fact.
When you sit down and stare at the screen what happens in your head? Is it because you feel you’ve written yourself into a corner and don’t know how to get out of it? Is it because you don’t know what the next step is? Is it because your mind is on whether or not you filed your reports for tomorrow (“Leave the puce.”)? There are so many reasons you might not be writing that it’s overwhelming. We then put those reasons into a bin and call it “writer’s block” without pulling it apart to determine the underlying cause.
To me, calling it such a generic term is like going to a veterinarian for help with a sick pet and just telling them you have a mammal when they ask what kind of pet you own. It’s such a vague term that has no useful information that you may as well have stayed home. Once you identify the kind of mammal you own, the symptoms you’re seeing, and looked for the cause you can come up with a treatment. It’s much the same with writing.
But nothing works, and I just don’t wanna!
In that case you need to ask yourself if you’re really a writer. There are times when we all hit a brick wall, but are you just using “writer’s block” as an excuse to get out of writing? Let’s be honest, we all get lazy sometimes and just don’t feel like it. Or we’re too burned out from life to sit at the keys. That’s okay to admit. Life sometimes steals our creative energy or just our energy and holds it hostage. There’s nothing wrong with saying so. Also, there are plenty of days where, when the work is done, we put on our fuzzy pajamas and binge-watch Netflix for the night because we just can’t be arsed.
The key is that you shouldn’t let those fuzzy-PJ’s-Netflix nights define your creativity. If you’re spending more time away from the keys than a them, then you should either evaluate whether you want to be a writer or not, or admit that maybe now isn’t the right time. I remember just after my father died I couldn’t manage everything and write, so I set my personal writing aside for a few months while I sorted everything else out. I still wanted to write, but I had other priorities. Now, I have a mentor who has written a minimum of 1k words a day for the last forty years without missing a day. To the point where he told nurses in the hospital to hold surgery off so he could finish his piece. I’m not kidding. That’s dedication, and I hold that man in awe. However, I’m not him, and I recognize that.
Ultimately, so-called writer’s block has a source rather than some nebulously defined state of being where your fingers don’t work the keys. It always does. Rather than using such a thin and trite (not to mention unhelpful) description of your struggle, just say the truth: “I don’t know what to do next.” “I am too tired from working too many hours today.” “I think I’ve written myself into a corner.” Those problems have solutions. They aren’t some kind of amorphous monster we can’t defeat. Whatever struggle you’re having has an answer. I promise. Just keep on keeping on, and search for those answers. Ask for help if you need to. Shoot me a message and tell me your woes, and I’ll do what I can to help. Lay it out to a friend or a writing group. It’s there.
You can do this.