In an earlier post, my friend Rhett asked, “I often sit down to write, and I get this feeling like there’s nothing much to say. I’m sure everyone gets this, even if I am a more chronic case. Do you? If so, how do you work with that?”
This seems to be one of the many faces of “writer’s block” which, if you’ve ever spoken to someone who writes or read about writing, you’ve probably heard a lot about.
The most common form of writer’s block that I’ve experienced is ultimately based in fear and concern about what others will think. Fear that you’re not good enough, or that nothing you could possibly say is important or will be published, etc. etc. You are comparing your (as yet nonexistent) work to everything else you’ve read and feel that you’re coming up short.
This is usually the fault of an overly aggressive internal editor (mine’s named Steve) and cripples any bit of creative impulse you had going. People suffering under this type of writer’s block are worried about the end result of their project before anything is even set down on the page. If, when you sit down to write, you are thinking that it has to be the best, or a completely original concept, or something that will launch you into instant fame…you’ve got a guaranteed way to ensure you continue writing nothing for a good long while.
A related problem is feeling like you have to have something specific to say every time you write. Again, you’re worried about the ending before you have a beginning. Rhett is right — this does happen to everyone at some point, and it actually happens to me a lot. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to take a different approach. This might mean switching the music I’m listening to, going for a walk with the dogs and observing the outdoors closely, re-reading a poem I love, look over a magazine or recent newspaper, or talking to a good friend for a few minutes.
Most often, I just freewrite. I write whatever pops into my head, no matter how silly or strange or mundane it might be. Sometimes these sessions start with, “I have no idea what to write.” That’s ok. Eventually, something else comes up. If, out of three pages of freewriting, I have only one line I can actually use…well, that’s one more line than I had when I started.
I asked some of my creative friends on twitter how they overcome a block and got some great answers:
@vixalicious: I do craft projects – it’s creative, but it uses a different part of the brain or something, and it refreshes me.
@jennyscottmusic: I know it’s nothing new, but I just take my guitar & play spur-of-the-moment, or search for a topic I could write about…
@feachador pointed out a great TedTalks video by Elizabeth Gilbert here: http://bit.ly/7awct
@adampknave: Keep working.
Christine Kane also has a fantastic list of ways to jumpstart creativity on her blog here.
Keep working…this too shall pass. You just have to get through it and find an approach you may not have tried yet. I think we’re all inherently creative beings, and that our creativity *wants* to be expressed. Our job is to find an outlet and keep the lines open.