I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. But it was something that I always enjoyed and something that seemed to come easily to me. I tended to write papers that were several pages too long; I easily filled those little blue essay books during tests at school; and in my spare time, I liked to write stories — even if they were rife with tropes.
Now, I write for a living, and I write for a hobby, so sometimes it can be difficult to write just for fun. Remember that, self? Writing just because you loved it?
In truth, I am living every writer’s dream. I get paid to put words on a page. It’s amazing, exhilarating, a bit frightening, and intoxicating. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
But every now and then (read: all the time), I grapple with this strange thing called “crippling self doubt.” Some call it “writer’s block,” but I just call it OH MY GOD KILL ME I AM THE WORST. It can happen over anything, really.
Sometimes I’ll read something so beautifully written that I tell myself I should just give up because I will never achieve that.
Sometimes I think about the elaborative, fictive worlds created by incredible authors before me (think J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin — by the way, this is making me think I need some initials in my name somewhere) and I want to call it quits.
Other times, I just feel stuck. I am overwhelmed by this feeling of being drained creatively and it feels like I’ll never be able to write another word again.
I’m wrong, of course, but that fact doesn’t quite help me in the moment. Instead, here are a few things that do help me break out of that mindset.
Read old writing.
It’s a strange concept, but sometimes what helps me craft something new is to sort through old things I’ve already done. While some of my previous writing is bound to make me cringe (hey, fanfic I wrote when I was 12, I thought I burned you!), some of it helps me realize I’m not as bad as I think I am. There’s no better way for me to try to quell invasive thoughts about how awful I am at writing than by having verifiable proof that I’m not. It’s not to say I am some kind of immaculate writer, but just that it’s pretty incredible to use the power of words to create something out of nothing.
Use a pen and paper.
It’s simple, but also kind of magical. Pen and paper was exactly how I first began to write all those years ago (although I will admit I think my first long ‘story’ was written with pencil). As convenient as a laptop may be, sometimes all it takes is some time to write by hand to break you out of a funk.
Remove the pressure.
One of my biggest hurdles when it comes to writing something new is this overwhelming pressure I put on myself that whatever it is I pen must be fantastic. It must be great. It must be moving. It must touch lives. Well, that’s a lot of pressure for anyone, let alone someone who is just trying to come up with their next blog post. So I have to figure out a way to remove that pressure… and sometimes that just means I go ahead and say, “Fuck it.” I remind myself that whatever I am writing doesn’t need to be perfect — it doesn’t even need to be good. It just needs to be. This quote, from young adult author Shannon Hale, sums it up:
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
This goes hand-in-hand with removing some of the pressure, but sometimes the absolute best thing you can do for yourself when your brain is overworked, your mind feels stuck, and you worry you’ll never string another sentence together, is write. Let go. Tell yourself you will write for one minute straight, and see what comes up. Stream-of-consciousness writing can pull you out of your funk and help you begin to feel like writing is doable. But whatever you do? Write.
How do you break through writer’s block? Or any kind of mental block in general?