Anyone who writes knows this scenario at one time or another: You have something to say, great ideas to express. So, you go to the page only to find your mind has gone as blank as the sheet or screen before you. Paralyzed, you write not a word. Somewhere in the synapses of your imagination, you know there lives a fully formed novel, story, play, or even one single poem, but you cannot magnify it enough to see the individual words. So you leave it for another day – until your vision is clearer, until inspiration strikes and reveals all 350 pages of text, all 36 lines of poetry. Until the writer’s block is gone.
Sometimes inspiration does strike out of the blue, and words pour down like rain. Ideas synthesize, fingers fly, and Voila! You’ve created a masterpiece – or at least a pretty good piece of work.
But such strikes of inspiration are not, for most of us, the norm. Writing takes commitment, and good writing takes practice.
Still, what about writer’s block?
Even when you’re diligent with your practice, even when you show up day after day, you’re not immune from the block, from finding yourself without two words that make any sense. What then?
First, shift your perspective on what writer’s block is. It’s easy to panic, to believe it means you’ll never write again, that you have no real talent or that you have nothing worthwhile to say. But none of these is near the truth.
Writer’s block is not the lack of skill or worthiness as a writer – it is, instead, a signifier revealing one of two things:
- There is a truth you are not yet ready to tell
- There is something more that needs to be learned or experienced before the ideas can be fully crystallized
When you write you cannot help but come up against and touch upon your own inner sore spots and the edges of your comfort zones. To write deeply you must delve inside of and push against these, stretching, questioning, and seeing more and more clearly. The truths you tell yourself are the markers that guide you through. When you come to a place you are not yet ready to go, to words you are not yet ready to say, or to something that is not yet in focus – you get stuck. Willingness to face the wall, to approach it with patience, compassion, trust, and honesty, is the way through it. There is no way around it. Your blocks are gifts that push you to grow, to break through the hard places to reach the fertile ground.
Let me share an example to explain. When I was writing my novel, I found myself going in circles around a primary relationship in the story – one between the main character and her mentor/teacher. I would talk about the teacher, but I couldn’t dive into the center of her role in the novel, most specifically I couldn’t find ANY words to put in her mouth. As long as she didn’t speak, I was okay. But that was a problem. There came a point when I could no longer keep her mute. She had to speak. But every time I tried, I ended up sitting in front of the screen, hands poised and my insides twisting in frustration.
Finally, I decided to get up and move. I went for a walk, and as my limbs fell into a rhythm my mind fell into the story. The dialogue played out in my head. Away from the computer, I could have a conversation with the characters; I could get inside them and hear what they wanted to say.
On that walk, it occurred to me that I had been unable to claim the voice of the mentor before then because I had not been able to claim her within my own being. Whenever the story demanded she speak, I would feel the panic of putting on paper what was being shared as wisdom. Who was I to say such things? Who was I to be the voice of wisdom? But just realizing what was “blocking” me, what I needed to learn, freed me. And along the way, I opened doorways to my own growth.
When feeling “blocked” take a walk. Let your body move and your mind ease and flow. Ask yourself what you might fear in the work you are doing – what truth you are not yet ready to claim or tell. And know that we cannot always control the readiness of things. Time teaches us and directs our understanding, and our understanding directs the depth and breadth of our writing. Be patient with yourself. And keep writing.