Overcoming Writer's Block
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Sometimes I really, really hate this blog.
Not because I don't like writing, but because all I write about is what I know, and I don't know much. Some days, I can honestly say I know nothing. I know that using a bit of white vinegar in a load of sweaty laundry can help your clothes smell better. And I know that one should not drive a car in a bike lane, or merge without using a turn signal. I know that sunscreen is important and that the ice caps are melting and that every day, millions of people drag themselves out of bed without the slightest clue as to what they're doing or why.
Sometimes I hate this blog because I get tired of all my dismal, boring thoughts that play like a metronome in my brain. I heard once that 90 percent of our thoughts every day are not unique, and although that may not be true, it is *highly* depressing.
One of my writing professors told us that the best writing comes from an honest place; that the best way to write well is to write intimately. He also told us that writer's block isn't real, it's simply fear dressed up as an excuse. Because, he said, one can always write, but one cannot always write well. The fear of writing something bad can keep us from writing anything at all, which is why so many of us have half-finished articles and pages of poems and a book we've started and stopped writing a million times.
The author Auberon Waugh said, "In my experience, novelists and others who complain of a mysterious disease called Writer’s Block should be treated with suspicion. This inexplicable failure to write anything can be the result of two conditions— simple laziness or having nothing to say…One needs only to develop a certain power of concentration and have something to say.”
Jordan Peterson said the best writing comes from addressing a question that you need to answer. Writing teaches us how to think, how to put coherent thoughts together, how to consider ideas from all sides and inspect them so carefully that when we lay them down on the page, they make some kind of sense. Good writing makes writing look easy, but nothing done well is done easily.
When I dig to the bottom of why I've ever avoided doing anything, ever in my life, the answer is usually fear. Sometimes, it takes me a while to figure out that fear is at the bottom of my procrastinations because fear is easy to dress up as other things. "I'm too busy," I think. Or, "I have other priorities right now," or, "It isn't that important." Diminishing the importance of whatever you're afraid of doesn't make it magically disappear, it usually makes your fear grow deeper, granting it life it never really had. Darkness can only grow in the dark, after all.
So, writer's block is really nothing more than one kind of fear dressed up in a fancy phrase that undergraduate writing students pass around like a liquor bottle. Here, have some writer's block, they say. Drink a bit of distraction. Don't sit down and write something profound, that's too hard. Don't sit down and write at all. Stay here with us and we'll distract you from your fear.
Sometimes I hate this blog because I never know what I'm going to write. Some days, ideas come in floods and I struggle to wrangle them all before they're swept away. And some days, my idea garden dries up entirely, leaving nothing but a few scraggly weeds and some half-hearted sentences that I inevitably delete a few days later. What matters though, is that I took the time to write the sentences I will later delete, because no good thing grows overnight, and even though I cannot always write well, I can always write.
Sometimes I love this blog, because nothing is more difficult than sitting down and sorting out my thoughts, and doing hard things helps me believe in doing other hard things.
“You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” — John Rogers
P.S. Read about breaking writer's block here, find something to write about here, or find your next read here.