Is Writer’s Block an Imaginary Affliction?
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Many writers claim it’s a constant thing with them, like a sinus condition. But what if I told you that writer’s block is an imaginary affliction? Would you be shocked?
Disclaimer here: My mentoring clients know that I don’t believe in writer’s block. After decades of helping and encouraging writers, I have come to see it as an excuse, a crutch.
In my writing, I have no problem punching out at least 2,500 words of quality material every morning. No, I’m not a genius, just a man with a plan.
And that’s what I’m talking about here. I realize that people can get bogged down in their writing, and here’s the cure.
What is So-Called Writer’s Block?
People who say they get writer’s block complain that when they sit down to write, their mind suddenly goes blank. There were ideas there before, but they all flew away like a flock of scared seagulls when they began to write.
Writers don’t know how to deal with this, so they tend to wander away from their keyboards.
But a blank mind isn’t dramatic enough for most writers. Many need to delude themselves and others about their mental state by putting on a performance.
“Oh, I have a horrible disease—writer’s block,” they shriek, the back of their hand on their forehead in true thespian fashion.
Well, I’ve been a professional writer for over three decades, and I say the concept of writer’s block is bunk.
But, I admit, there seem to be many people in the writing business who love the writer’s block myth. Just the other day I saw an article on an otherwise reputable writing website that claimed to offer over 25 techniques to banish writer’s block forever.
I had a serious giggle as I read it. The author even had the gall to mention that writers have “muses.” That’s a crack-up. Here’s a link to my instructive and entertaining online course on motivation for writers, and where I debunk that idea.
Your books and articles come from within your brain, not from an outside voice, muse, space alien, or any other type of being.
That article writer regurgitated every myth, old wives tale, fairy story, and lame idea about curing it, and he reached back into the inky mists of time to do it. Great fodder for a blog post, I suppose, but no real value for those people who can’t put words on a page.
Writer’s Block is Not a Psychological Mystery
I like the short definition of writer’s block you find on Google. There’s no drama in it. It’s just: “The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”
That’s is all there is to it, whether it lasts an hour or a year or longer. People add embellishment for dramatic effect, but that’s what it is. Writer’s block is an imaginary affliction.
So, run for your life if you see some alleged guru offering you 14, 28, or 56 tips, or the “secret,” of overcoming writer’s block. You’ll find out soon enough they are all bogus, and you don’t need any of them if you understand the creative process.
You can stop wasting time with so-called writer’s block when you understand the creative process. Here’s how it works.
Here’s how the creative process works. I hate o seem like I’m telling you there is no Tooth Fairy, but creativity is simply brain chemicals and electrical impulses in the form of synaptic flashes, making connections in your brain.
Your unique formulation of ideas emerges from how these connections are formed in your mind.
If you want low-quality synaptic connections and resulting low-quality ideas, then isolate yourself.
If you want high-quality synaptic flashes and great ideas, then you want to empower your brain’s electrical system. You do that by feeding your brain. Stimulate it.
You gather material. This is your inspiration. It may be your personal experience, general reading, focused research, or a combination of them all.
That gets your brain waves excited. You process that data in your mind. This is your creativity machine.
You take existing ideas as inspiration and recycle them through your unique personality, education, and experiences. Only then do you present your thoughts in a fresh way for today’s audience. It all happens between your ears.
How to Avoid the Imaginary Writer’s Block Affliction
Before I proceed with the mechanic of avoiding so-called writer’s block, let me tell you that people think they are coming down with writer’s block because they are not taking care of their brain or the rest of their body.
If you feel sluggish, make sure you’re eating right, have fresh air and are getting some exercise.
But let’s go deeper.
You must feed your brain and organize your thoughts to get words on the page. Here’s how you do that.
Create a preliminary roadmap about what you want to say
Writing down your “big vision” gives direction and purpose to your writing. You’re just capturing the direct you’re heading and some of the high points along the way. This is a starting point, and you’ll add the details later as you develop and refine your thoughts.
Do preparatory research
This takes many forms. You may simply write down your ideas or memories. You may read books on your topic. You may interview people. You may do specific research. This applies equally to fiction and nonfiction books. You write down the information so you can refer to it and your sources later if needed.
Add detail to your roadmap
With research in hand, you’ll want to revise your roadmap. You’ll learn new details that you’ll want to add to your “big vision.” By the way, most people do a second wave of research and revise their outline again. It’s best to do your research before you start writing. It’s counter-productive to start and stop writing to do additional research. Complete your first draft and fill in the holes in the third wave of research after you complete your first draft. Think of research and revision as layers in the creative process as you build your book.
Once your trip plan is as complete as you can get it, you are ready to start writing. Your brain has enough organized information to keep you supplied with words without slowing down or stopping. Keep writing. Don’t stop for anything. You can revise after your first draft is complete.
If you suddenly find yourself go blank as you write, it generally means you did not do enough research or include enough detail in your roadmap.
A Roadmap By Another Name
Of course, we writers have a name for this kind of roadmap. It’s called an outline in nonfiction. Fiction writers, like screenwriters, generally break down every aspect of their book into scenes, so the outline is just as detailed but less formal.
Some people say such planning is horrible because it stifles spontaneity and creativity. That’s nonsense. In reality, it only stifles writer’s block.
Even though you are following a detailed roadmap, you can still take side-trips if you wish. I do that all the time on trips I take and when I write. When I’m on a trip, I’m always a sucker to go off the beaten path to see a historical location or something unusual.
When I write, I do the same thing. I’ll go off on a tangent if I think it will help me tell a better story. But I don’t depend on such ideas to keep writing. If my spontaneous writing side-trip doesn’t work out, I simply start following my road map again.
This attitude and method are the best of both worlds. You have a plan, and you keep yourself open to spontaneous moments.
Keep in mind that if you go dry while following your written outline/roadmap, you can jump to another point in your outline and keep on writing. There’s no need to write your book in order. Go to a place in your outline where you can keep writing. If needed, you clean up continuity in the second draft revision.
“Pantsters” and So-Called Writer’s Block
Yes, I am aware of writers called “pantsters” who “fly by the seat of their pants” and have no map and just hope words will pop into their head on demand. But these are often the drama kings and queens who are always complaining about writer’s block. They don’t believe that writer’s block is an imaginary affliction but weave it into their process. They have a general idea about where their book is going, but not a specific plan, so they often dry up.
They are enamored with the romantic idea that they can’t be spontaneous if they have a plan, but that runs counter to what we know about the creative process. Yes, some pantsters succeed. But fewer than you think.
I believe their writing could be better if they worked in harmony with the way the human brain works, and it works in a never-ending process of organizing data for future use.
You Can Banish So-Called Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is an imaginary affliction. Banish so-called writer’s block by taking these steps.
- Change your thought patterns. You don’t have to be a victim of so-called writer’s block.
- Have a plan to overcome those times when your creativity falters. The cure is two-fold—first, plan your work in advance. Second, always break down larger portions into bite-sized chunks. Our heads get so filled with ideas that we have no point of attack or action. Isolating key ideas, writing them down, and thinking about them is how you deal with them without getting blocked.
- If you feel blocked at one point, jump to another portion of the same manuscript and keep writing. You can do that when you have a roadmap. With an outline, you don’t get blocked. You’re able to take a detour and keep on writing.
There is joy in writing when the words flow from you. Try this cure. It will work for you.