by Becca Naylor
Shoulders hunched and brow furrowed, you sit in front of your laptop. It’s been ten minutes, or maybe even an hour, and yet the white page remains empty. The cursor mocks you with its incessant rhythm, it’s there and then it disappears, just like your last great idea. Maybe there’s a notebook lying exposed on the table, with an unused pen or pencil discarded nearby. You huff a little and get up to make another drink of choice before settling back in for another staring match versus the blank screen.
Besides rejection letters, writer’s block may be the most dreaded aspect of the creative lifestyle. Most of the time, writers talk about being blocked as if it were something that happened to them, like perhaps God saw fit to send down a lightning bolt of un-inspiration, or maybe an ex worked some voodoo magic and put a hex on them. In my experience, writer’s block comes as a result of my own doing, though often unknowingly.
I have found that my fear of failure inhibits my work more than anything else. As an approval addict, I seek positive affirmation all the time— from esteemed peers, a mentor, or an authority figure. The fear of not achieving my goals has often kept me from even trying to reach them in the first place. By convincing myself that what I have to say cannot possibly said well enough, I set myself up to be blocked the anxiety of failure. When this happens, I get stuck in a rut for days, weeks, or even months. It’s the absolute worst, and it goes on until I can work up the courage to produce something terrible and let that be it. I’ve learned that not everything I write is going to be good, and it’s certainly not going to even be close the first time I try to write it. That is why we revise.
Although the fear of failure is the biggest writer’s block trigger for me, it’s not the only one. I and other writers I’ve spoken with also bring on a block by fighting our own muse. Sometimes there’s something that I need to get out, but I don’t want to say it. Usually it has to do with personal issues, such as mental health. I’ve found that the best thing to do in this case is to just write it anyway. Get it out and on paper. No one has to read it. You can burn it if you want to (outside, preferably).
In some cases, we become blocked when we are empty. This happens when we think we’ve explored all of our current inspirations. Personally, I think this is the best kind of block because it’s the easiest to fix. You simply have to be a sponge. Go out and soak up more ideas. Find a new place to write, to explore. Look up (or make your own) playlists to inspire you. Read a new book, but don’t read a book on craft. They tend to be unhelpful when you’re blocked (but if you must, read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). Instead, read something that you would want to write. Try a new hobby (but avoid ones that can lead to losing fingers). Let free writing become your new best friend, and remember, it doesn’t have to be good. Just write words.
One word at a time.