My Two Secret Words for Beating Down the Wall of Writer’s Block

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If I’ve been absent from this blog recently, it’s because I’ve had a relapse of an old affliction that used to give me sleepless nights and the feeling that words are battering the inside walls of my brain without finding a way out. Here are my two secret words for overcoming writer’s block.

I’ve been suffering with a serious case of writer’s block. I’ve logged in to this blog-space several times recently and stared blankly at the (very few) words I’d managed to write in the last two weeks. Or perhaps I wrote a few sentences in the hope that I’d feel inspired and suddenly aware of where I was going with it. None of it worked. It’s as if the creative wiring in my brain had been disconnected and I could no longer figure out what I wanted to say. In contrast to what usually happens, I couldn’t find anything to talk about, and when I did find an interesting topic — the counselling ethic that instructs us to “do no harm” — I couldn’t get beyond the first paragraph! What was going on? My brain felt drained, squeezed of all energy and enthusiasm, devoid of ideas and lacking in any notion of where to go from here.

I’ve had writer’s block before. When I first went to university, I spent many long hours staring at the pristine sheet of paper in my typewriter (this was long before the era of the ubiquitous personal computer!), willing the words to appear miraculously on the page. Getting the ideas out of my head and into a well-argued and coherent whole seemed impossible. I knew I understood what I wanted to write about, but I just couldn’t work out how to shape it into essay form. The panic would start to rise — would I hand in a sub-standard piece of work and be ridiculed by my tutor; would I be written off as not fit enough to be studying at university level — who was I trying to kid, I’d think to myself!

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Somehow, the words always seemed to come just in the nick of time, and I’d swear never to let the deadline get so close again. But I nearly always did.

There was, for me, an anxiety about starting — about putting that first word on the paper. I wanted it to write itself, beautifully argued and formatted, without my having to go through the torture of actually doing it. It felt, I imagined, rather like giving birth — though mentally rather than physically.

Fast forward 20 years and I was back at university studying Counselling, and still getting writer’s block when it came to essays. Only this time, my problem was with the now very ubiquitous word processing software — it gave so many opportunities to redraft, amend, and tweak what was written, that I felt lost in all the possible nuances of what I wanted to say.

Now, another few years later, my writer’s block returned with a vengeance. Why? Well, I think fatigue and busyness has a lot to do with it; and also the fact that I didn’t have a set time each week when I sat down to write. And it’s not just the writing, it’s also the thinking time before the actual writing starts — time for ideas and opinions to percolate and simmer, and for the final flavour to become clear. And time has been in short supply for me lately.

It’s also a relic from my childhood when I felt I had to write perfectly from the start and that anything less than perfect was, quite literally, not worth the paper it was written on. (See ““Don’t Waste the Paper”: The Voyage to Discover Hidden Beliefs”.) That ‘Be perfect’ driver in my subconscious clearly still kicks in occasionally.

So aside from adding another few hours to the day, what can help me — or you — get through writer’s block? Well, what comes to me as I write this is two words: discipline and fun.

There’s the discipline of sitting down and just writing whatever comes to mind, of committing to doing it by putting it into my diary as a fixed appointment and then turning up on time for it!

And then there’s the fun: unless I’m writing a very serious report or official document, the writing process should be something enjoyable rather than a chore. I need to remember that playing with ideas and making connections between them is something I love doing and sharing with other people. I can also make it fun by writing about something unrelated to what I’m ‘supposed’ to be writing about, in order to get into the habit of doing it. To borrow and adapt the catchphrase from an old children’s television programme: “It’s Friday, it’s 5 o’clock and it’s Writing Time!”.

So having just written around 800 words on the subject of writer’s block without getting blocked at all, am I now ‘cured’? I don’t think I can go that far, but I do think I need to rediscover the joy of writing, and like any joyful activity, it’s best done when I’m well-rested and well-fed, and when I’ve finished the other things I need to do first.

It occurs to me that there’s a theme in many of the posts that I write here — the importance of self-nourishment and making time for myself. It seems to be a lesson that I have to learn time and again. Maybe I could start a ‘me-time’ journal — if only I could get over my writer’s block.

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