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So you’ve decided that you’re going to write the next Citizen Kane or Casablanca, or if you’re a novelist, the great American novel . You sit down, crack your fingers and then it hits you. What every writer fears and what every writer has experienced at one point or another in their writing career. Writer’s block.
So what do you do? Bartleby’s American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.” A lot of writer’s block has to do with fear. Fear that your work may not be as good as you hope. Fear that no one will like what you’ve written. Fear that the dog may eat your masterpiece mere moments after you’ve written it.
These are all irrational fears (especially the last one if you’re writing on a computer). But knowing that’s not going to help you get rid you of your writer’s block. And thinking about your writer’s block and focusing on it is just going to make it worse.
So what can you do to overcome writer’s block? You have to do is change your thinking. There are two ideas common to writers that are a source of anxiety and often contribute to the paralyzing effects of writer’s block.
The first is the idea of inspiration or having a creative muse. Many people believe that good writing flows out of the writer when inspiration strikes. This is a belief reinforced by popular culture in movies, television and literary works with images of depressed writers (the writers are always depressed) crippled with writer’s block that suddenly write with a fury when they find their creative muse (usually a woman).
The problem with this idea is that it turns the writer into little more than an idiot savant with a lightning rod waiting for the lightning of inspiration to strike. Yes, there are times when inspiration strikes us and the words flow out of us with ease, but, for the most part, writing is work. And hard work at that. Putting too much stock in the idea of inspiration makes it easy for the writer to come up with excuses to not write. And not writing, my friend, is the quickest road to writer’s block.
The second thing that plagues writers is having a results-oriented thinking process that is not conducive to the creative process. Too many writers sit down thinking that they have to write at a certain pace or finish a certain amount of words each day. This type of thinking puts too much pressure on the subconscious mind where the creative process takes place. The subconscious mind is on it’s own timetable. It takes as much time as it needs. Once you realize this, it will free your mind and help make the process easier.
“Ok, so don’t wait for inspiration and don’t expect results,” you say, “but how does this help me overcome my writer’s block?” The key to overcoming writer’s block is to write. I’ll repeat that again (which is very easy with the copy and paste function). The key to overcoming writer’s block is to write. “And how do you achieve that?” you might ask. The first thing you can do is treat your writing like a job. Set aside a specific block of time every day to write. It can be for two hours starting at six in the morning or it can be for five hours from nine at night. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it is the same time every day.
Once you’ve set your time, then you need to sit and write for the entire block of time every day. No exceptions. Don’t get up and answer the phone. Don’t turn on the TV or surf the internet. Just sit and write. If nothing comes to you, then just sit and think. You can do creative writing exercises or free associate if you want, but do not get up. What this does is it lets your mind know that this time is time for you to work. To write. And eventually, that is what will happen. Once your mind knows that you are serious about the writing process, the ideas will come.
I also recommend that, for the most part, you only write for the block of time that you’ve set aside. Sure, there will be times when you are inspired and the words are flowing easily. Feel free during those times to stay a little longer. But, in general, on the days where you are just working, it’s best to stop when you’re time is up. Don’t try and go to a stopping point. Don’t try to finish the scene or the chapter. Just make a few notes about what you were thinking and stop. Why? Because this will allow you to have a starting point the next day when you sit down. Yes, you may lose the good idea you had at the moment, but chances are your subconscious mind will have been churning over that idea while you were away and you will find yourself excited to get back to writing to see where the story goes.
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