Composes email to journal. Attaches file. Hits “send.”
A momentary sense of relief sets in upon the completion of a written work. This is usually followed with deep breaths and a generous serving of Pinot Noir. But then the next day arrives and an inkling of unease snakes into my thinking:
“Now what am I going to write? That was it! I am out of ideas! I’m done. Oh no! I’ve got nothing.”
A second serving of wine will not suffice; instead I go for an extra dirty martini.
For me, writer’s block has been nothing more than an appealing way to describe mental paralysis brought on by my own anxiety. When you stop to ruminate on the wondrous thing that is writing, it’s quite astonishing. Ideas that exist only in the mind and do not occupy space needle your physical self to move your fingers and usher those ideas into the physical world. On paper or on the computer, ideas that only the thinker was privy to, become object. Your mental activity suddenly emerges as something to be seen or heard. The beauty of this act of creation also spurs anxiety because in writing, one actively unveils the contents of the mind.
While writing and thinking are primarily solitary affairs there remains the crucial component of sharing this work. Inevitably, a reader (or readers) need to come into the picture. “What will they think of what I think?” Leading with that question cloaked in fear, I’ve learned, only launches a bout of writer’s block. Here are some steps I take to diffuse the anxiety:
- Stepping away for a while allows for the mind to re-boot. Sometimes I honestly don’t know what is more challenging, forcing myself to stop writing or forcing myself to write. I have found that when I overcome the guilt of not writing for a few days I tend to return to my laptop fresh and ready to start.
- I make it a point to visit interesting places.
- After taking time off, if I’m still at a loss for ideas I resolve to sit down and write whatever is in my head without editing. I’ve eloquently nicknamed this my “brain vomit sessions.” There will be pages and pages of non-sense before a gem of an idea presents itself. I’ve accepted it is okay to unleash paragraphs of ramblings because that is simply part of the writing process.
The best of the worst of my doozies from brain vomit sessions (I sincerely hope this makes you feel better about your own writing woes):
Reasons I Envy My Cat
Things Said At CrossFit That Would Be Awkward In Any Other Context
Chubby Introverted Atheist Growing Up In Catholic School: A Memoir
Mary Wollstoncraft Meets Ladies for Tea
Socrates Decides to Chat With The Oracle at Delphi Himself
- I read more and with a notebook handy to write down any interesting word or phrases. After compiling my list I work out sentences with them. Sometimes toying with a word rather than scrambling for a big idea unlocks the block.
- Most importantly, when anxiety encroaches on my writing time I stop and journal about why I write in the first place. Without fail, I end up at the same conclusion: I write to improve myself and to understand the world. The more honest I am with that sentiment, the less afraid I am of embarking on another writing project.
Sue Grafton: “Seriously: I write because it’s all I know how to do. Writing is my anchor and my purpose. My life is informed by writing whether the work is going well or I’m stuck in the hell of writer’s block, which I’m happy to report only occurs about once a day.”
Mary Karr: “Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident. Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver, the bat girl in Yankee Stadium. That’s a more fruitful way to be.”
Simone de Beauvoir: “I got the desire to write very young….The meaning of this project was to make the world my own, to show my life as freely recreated by me.”
Bryan Magee: “I have written several of my books because I wanted to master a subject: producing a book about it was the best, if not the only, way I could force myself to work really hard and systematically at it over a long period of time. I can sit and think for a while, but not for months on end—unless I write.”