Sometimes, when I’m interviewed, the question of writer’s block comes up. Do I get blocked? What do I do when that happens? I suppose most people picture writing as this creative rush and that, sometimes, a dam prevents the stream of words. How dos the writer remove the dam?
To be honest, I don’t think writer’s block is an inability to write or is the creative equivalent of a twisted ankle. What it is is much more simple but very formidable. Writer’s block is fear.
Most writers I’ve met are a bundle of anxieties and self-doubts. Every time I meet an extremely confident writer, I’m automatically suspicious of that confidence. To me, it almost always looks like a facade. Underneath whatever confidence a writer may project is fear. In order to write, that fear must be corralled and controlled. When it escapes and overtakes, then the result is writer’s block.
Identify the Fear
When I get writer’s block, the first thing I do is ask, “What am I afraid of?” Sometimes, I’m afraid of my own project. It might seem too big or too convoluted or too different from what I normally do. Sometimes, I’m afraid of what my audience will think. Will they like it? What if they hate it? Sometimes, I’m afraid of my own ability. I fear that I’m actually a terrible writer and just don’t see it.
Identifying why I am afraid goes a long way in overcoming writer’s block because then I know in what direction I must go to overcome that fear.
Overcome the Fear
If I’m afraid of my own project, then I might step away for a little bit. I might go for a walk or go read a book or whatever. Sometimes, stepping back from it allows me to look at the project more objectively and be able to see, again, how I can accomplish whatever I’m writing. Sometimes, I give myself a pep talk. Or, I turn to a friend or my husband for a confidence boost.
If I’m afraid of what my audience will think, I remind myself that I am not primarily writing for an audience. I’m telling a story I feel needs to be told. The first person I tell a story to is myself. Then I work on making it accessible for other readers. And it also helps to remind myself that, no matter what I do, there will always be people who won’t like my work and trying to please everyone will be impossible.
If I’m afraid of my own ability, then I remind myself that many people, over the years, have liked my writing. I remind myself of everything I have accomplished. And I also remind myself that there will always be things that will need fixing and that’s okay. Improving as a writer is part of being a writer. You never stop growing.
Regardless of the fear, I always remind myself that I am a writer. Writing is what I do. It is as much a part of myself as my eyes and skin. I cannot be anything other than a writer. When I marshal my courage to overcome a particular fear, I am also marshaling my courage to be who I really am.
Focusing Past Writer’s Block
Once I’ve given myself a pep talk or gone for a walk or sought someone’s advice, I go back to writing. I don’t let too much time pass. This is because if I wait too long, then I may lose whatever confidence I have gained. By getting right back to work, I don’t give fear a chance to take another foothold.
Someone once said that if you can’t write, then you shouldn’t. That is, if you’re so blocked that no words will come, then you shouldn’t force yourself. I think a famous author said that. And, for that author, that might actually work. However, I find that drafts are for those times when you have to force yourself to write. During the editing process, so much gets changed or rewritten that it doesn’t matter if certain sections had to be forced out. If we’re so afraid of what we’re writing in the moment, we’ll forget that we’re going to go over it again anyhow, so why be afraid?
In the end, writer’s block is about fear. And overcoming that fear is part of being a writer.
Also published on Medium.