This is a guest post from Joe Sidery of ProWritingAid.com. Joe is a Creative Writer from Nottingham, England. Graduating from Newcastle University with a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, Joe currently works in the partnerships team at ProWritingAid, helping writers to tell the best version of their stories.
We’ve all been there. The embers of inspiration nipping at our heels; hearts brimming with excitement; our stories yearning to be told. But then we see it:
the blank page.
Looming there like a cat waiting for you to wake up and make its damned breakfast.
A silent sentinel, beckoning you, taunting you, daring you to write something down.
Suddenly, the embers begin to dissipate. As the sirens’ song leads weary seafarers to their demise, the blank page, if allowed, will drain you of your inspiration, until the very last bubble stops, and you want nothing more than to never think about writing again.
Writer’s block can strike at any time during the writer’s journey; 1,000 words in, during the second-edit, or at the very start. It is as if there is no sanctuary, not even for the veteran scribe.
Fear not, sweet writer. Oftentimes, what we deem to be impediments are essential stepping stones to progress. We do not improve through stagnation.
If there is one thing for you to take away from this article, let it be this:
If you are experiencing writer’s block, it is because you are a writer.
One more time for those in the back.
If you are experiencing writer’s block, it is because you are a writer.
Why Writer’s Block is important.
Only writers get to experience the joy of writer’s block. It is the entrance fee we pay to participate in self-expression; the badge of honour we do not display yet should wear proudly. Experiencing writer’s block is an essential part of the writer’s journey. Otherwise, it would simply be called ‘block.’
Attempting to resist or fight against writer’s block is to do yourself and your writing a disservice. A caterpillar fighting its chrysalis will only delay its inevitable transformation into a butterfly.
Moreover, we only struggle with that which is dear to us; if the writing does not mean anything to the writer, they will not struggle to write it or worry about how to improve it. They are just words on a page, forgotten as quickly as they have been written.
What brings value and the joy to writing is its honesty, and with this honesty comes struggle. If you are experiencing writer’s block, you are going through the process correctly. To deny this struggle is to deny the very act of writing itself.
Therefore, dear writer, if you happen to find yourself stuck, know that it is because you are on the brink of true progression, and it is because you have a story that is not only worth telling, but a story that deserves to be told.
The world becomes richer when we can all tell our stories, and you are no exception.
What is Flow-state, and What’s it Got to with Writer’s Block?
A great question. First, let’s start by talking about what Flow-State means. Simply put, it is the complete absorption of a person into their chosen activity. Outside thought ceases to be an active intruder, allowing for complete focus. It is when we feel we are producing our best work, as if our stories are writing themselves.
Now, let’s compare this with the Oxford dictionary definition of writer’s block: “The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”
Not quite as seemingly productive as Flow-State, yet equally important.
Interestingly, both definitions require the writer to be consumed by their creative process, to the point where active thought is no longer present. In one instance, the writer is storming ahead and churning out hundreds of words an hour, and in the other there is only a blank page to show for their efforts. But if we see value only in terms of a finished product, there would be no benefit to any creative pursuit until we reach the end.
This is sheer folly! Any creative-writers will tell you that the process was the most valuable part of their creative journey. It was not in spite of their struggle, but due to it, that they were able to produce something they were proud of putting out into the world.
The page has to be blank before we can fill it. Embrace it!
I suggest that Flow-state cannot exist without Writer’s Block. An obstacle is only called as such due our ability to overcome it. It is essential to understand that flow state can often be found in the act of overcoming these obstacles. As Kurt Vonnegut states, there is “no fair tennis without a net.” Without an obstacle to overcome, there would be no journey, no progression, and no substance. So next time you are faced with the blank-page, know that this is where real progress resides.
Tips and encouragement
Having said this, one can embrace writer’s block, acknowledge its benefits and importance, and still be faced with the dead-eyed shark-stare of the blank page.
Below, I will list a couple of easy and hopefully fun methods in which to harness writer’s block, and catalyze the process of getting you back to writing.
But before I do, please remember: You are meant to struggle. You are meant to have days of little to no progress. You are meant to question why you even began writing in the first place. It is on these days and in these moments that we truly discover what we are meant to be writing, and why.
If possible, make sure you are getting fresh air. Yes, really. It is that beneficial. Just do it. Not only is it physically beneficial, but there is a writer’s comfort to be found in the simple act of meandering.
If, like me, you are a creature of habit, then a lot of your writing will take place in the same space; the same four walls adorning your subconscious whenever passive thought strays to your writing. This can get claustrophobic quickly, which, when internal, is a prison of the most isolating kind.
To combat this, what better way is there than to do away with walls entirely? Hear the birds and smell the air!
Generations upon generations of writers across the world have attempted to convey a sense of the sublime; from cave paintings of antelope and mountains, to Keats and his ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ – there is a constant beauty and timeless wisdom out there, separate from that of humanity and far more senior. To know that we as a species have drawn strength from this since we have had stories to tell is both an encouraging and humbling thought. Just as ancient Egyptians gazed up at the stars and felt small, so too can we look up at those celestial bodies and feel that same, comforting insignificance. Joining the ranks of wandering writers, both ancient and contemporary, one finds there is a particular comfort, knowing that writers have taken similar walks for centuries, taking welcomed breaks from their endeavours, like a whale coming up for air, ready to descend once again into the murky ink.
Any Writing is Useful Writing and Borrowing is Okay.
Often, we can be too close to our work for our, or its, own good. Much as toddlers need the freedom to explore, your writing needs room to breathe. It does not need round-the-clock surveillance – you need to trust each other. If we are too close to our writing and our stories, roadblocks appear (disguised as dead-ends.) One method I’ve found useful to combat this is to write something completely unrelated to your current project, but nevertheless something you enjoy.
Pick one of your favourite scenes from any book, movie or play. Write that scene from another character’s perspective; what would the contents of Boromir’s internal monologue be at the council of Elrond? What did the foreign flowers smell like to him? What was racing through Roose Bolton’s mind moments before his participation in the Red Wedding? Did he have doubts?
The only way to truly answer these questions is to find out for yourself and write it – in the words of Picaso himself, “good artists borrow, great artists steal” – who knows what metaphors, sensory description, or even plot points may migrate over into your own work. Allow yourself some fun!
Remember why you started.
I will finish on the point I believe to be the most important to internalise. You began your writing journey, even if it is still only in your head, for a reason. There was a story you wanted to bring into the world; something you needed to say. Do not, ever, lose sight of this – the world will become dimmer without it.