By Michele Herenstein
Fingers at the keyboard, head full of ideas ready to come spilling out—but nothing happens, frustration settles in, and writer’s block becomes the shocking, appalling, unhappy condition.
Writer’s block is a condition in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences an inability to be creative. For an author or freelancer, losing the ability to bring forth new material is pure torture.
I laughed out loud when writer’s block was described as “creative constipation.” I found some ideas to avoid focusing on writer’s block. Some examples are to go for a walk, read some inspirational quotes, brew coffee, get your blood flowing (I love running so that would be what I would do), write a draft, set up a schedule, and go shopping. All of these are to distract your mind from being unable to write.
The condition of writer’s block ranges from having difficulty coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce work in weeks, months, or years. Imagine being stuck in such a situation. I shiver in dread.
Professionals who have struggled with the affliction include authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and comic strip cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Franz Kafka wrote, “How time flies; another ten days and I will have achieved nothing.” What a downer, right? With that mentality, the brain will surely not allow him to be any more prolific. I found his sentiment to be full of despair and unhelpful to other authors who need all the uplifting they can get.
Jack London believed that writing daily is the best way to “rouse the sleeping muse.” In the same vein, Maya Angelou had a strong belief called the “just write” strategy. She said a writer who is blocked should keep on writing. “The trick is not to overthink it. Write nonsense if you have to. But keep writing, no matter if you’re pleased with the final result or not.”
There are some effective ways in managing writer’s block.
“My block was due to two overlapping factors—i.e. laziness and lack of discipline. If you really want to write, then shut yourself in a room, close the door, and write. If you don’t want to write, do something else. It’s as simple as that,” said Mary Garden.
I don’t think it’s quite so simple. There are many authors, ranging from famous to ordinary, but they’re writers all the same, and just because they’re being blocked for some reason, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to write. I strongly believe in writer’s block.
I sometimes have many ideas. I get excited at some ideas that seem perfect for the paper or public. But I can’t manage to get the first word down on paper. You are probably thinking, write that first word! It’s so easy. But I’m here to tell you what so many writers know but don’t admit to. Writing is sometimes extremely difficult. But when I do have an article published, I feel so accomplished and so happy that I’ve been able to share my thoughts, opinions, and research with you, my readers.
Taking notes, free writing, brainstorming, and establishing a routine are effective strategies against writer’s block. Quoting William Faulkner, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” Ha! A writer’s idea of a joke!
Taping the paper, i.e., talking into a tape recorder and later transcribing the tape-recorded material, may help. Often it may be easier to speak than to write.
Ernest Hemingway had something called the hoarding strategy. “If you’ve suffered from writer’s block but suddenly find all of that stimulation flooding into you again, don’t exhaust your resources. Always make sure to keep some inspiration in reserve.”
Similar to Maya Angelou’s “just write” strategy is Anthony Trollope’s “timed writing” strategy. When he sat down to write, he made sure he met his daily word-count goal. Over the course of 35 years, he wrote 47 novels as well as other pieces of writing, such as plays.
Quoting Jeffery Deaver, “I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen—whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book—it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”
Toni Morrison has a strategy called the “writing ritual.” Morrison and many authors emphasize the importance of writing rituals, a set sequence of actions you perform before you sit down to write. It could be as simple as making a cup of tea or playing some of your favorite music. A ritual helps to mentally prepare you to start writing.
We see that authors of all types have struggled to some extent with writer’s block, whether for a day, several hours, a week, or ongoing. This must be so frustrating for the writers undergoing this despair.
I have a favorite author, Nelson DeMille, who, sadly, is not a prolific author. I wonder if it’s by choice, or due to writer’s block. This question can be asked about a lot of authors.
Some authors can’t start their yet-to-be-written novels at the very beginning. It’s too daunting. So various authors start their writing at different places, such as the middle or the end, and then write backwards or fill in the blanks.
Writer’s block can cause despair and be quite discouraging. I would suggest that you think of it as a bump in the road. It may hit you hard and go on for a while, but once you start writing that first word again, go with it. Don’t think of the writer’s block you’ve experienced. Move on, be as prolific as possible, and be optimistic.
If writing is your love, don’t abandon it. Sometimes I want to throw sheets of paper around my office and have a mini-scream, but I need writing in my life. It is difficult, but I need to work through it, like many writers suggest, or take a break and follow the list of things that are suggested on the Internet.
If anyone can relate to this, I’d love to hear your story. I think it might help me—and my readers—as a push forward. Good luck to everyone going through the horrible despair of writer’s block.
Michele Herenstein is a freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.