Guest post by Emily Tjaden
Emily, a long-time student with The One Year Adventure Novel, recently experienced a breakthrough in her struggle with writer’s block. We asked her to share it with us—because, let’s be honest, we all wrestle with this monster sooner or later!
If you’ve been writing stories for long, chances are good that you’ve come into contact with the bane of every author’s existence. If you haven’t, the odds of escaping the clutches of this mind-numbing beast are definitely not in your favor.
Yep, I’m talking about writer’s block. Everybody deals with it differently, but often, it’s a story-halting disaster. You can’t write. Not that you don’t know WHAT to write. You just can’t. Period.
All you hear is the antagonizing whisper in your mind, “You’re stuck. Your powers don’t work here, Author!”
I’ve wrestled writer’s block for weeks before. I mean weeks. And not because I didn’t have anything to work on. I had a novel, outlined and ready to go, but motivation was out the window and on a shuttle to Mars. This depressed me to the point of questioning my identity as an author. Should I even be doing this? What if storytelling isn’t for me?
How many of you know what I’m talking about?
This frustrated me, and I began looking for ways to fight back—to beat writer’s block. I searched Pinterest; I read articles, blog posts, and comments; and virtually every time, I hit the exact same phrase: “Just write.”
“Awwwww, wut???” These people make it sound so EASY. As if hearing “just write” summons magical bursts of inspiration from above. Because it doesn’t. In fact, the words “Just write” make me feel like doing a face-keyboard.
I began to wonder what was keeping me from “just writing.” It wasn’t as if I was out of ideas. Quite the contrary. So what was it? Why did trying to find motivation feel like walking across a hard floor covered with Legos? (If you’ve ever done that, you have my condolences.)
What Is Writer’s Block?
Calling a friend, I asked, “What is writer’s block?” Because, essentially, I didn’t know. So far, my experience amounted to, “You know that incredible urge people get when staring at a blank screen to just…put words on it?…..I don’t have it.”
“Why can’t I just write?” I asked.
“Well, maybe you’re just over-intellectualizing things,” he answered.
It was the last response I expected.
After some thought, I came up with what I believe is a somewhat different “take” on the monster that we call writer’s block. I realized that I spent more time thinking about writing, than I did actually writing, which led me to conclude that maybe “writer’s block” isn’t what I’ve always thought it is.
What if, instead of a lack of creativity, it’s an overloaded thought process? The strain of trying to logically work out how to get from point A to point B in a scene was draining me so much that, by the time I read those “how-to-defeat-writer’s-block” inspirational posts, my brain was like, “Just write? You’ve gotta be kidding me!” The over-thinking was essentially killing my creativity.
I realized that I had a habit of skirting actually writing by telling myself, “Well, I’m just pushing my creativity,” or “I’m searching for motivation,” when in fact, over-intellectualizing the story was stealing both of those things. I couldn’t “just write”, because I was too wrapped up in the details. Really, I needed to tell myself, “This is a first draft! It can be messy.” Creativity flows best when it flows naturally.
Complex storylines often increase the temptation to intellectualize. It’s at this point where you have to realize what is and what isn’t over-thinking. There’s a line between creativity and intellectualizing.
Over-thinking a story is like trying to force creativity down a certain path when maybe it’s not even the best direction. If you worry too much about where things are going, you can miss valuable ideas that could’ve made your work better.
Setting overly-ambitious deadlines also aids and abets writer’s block. I set them because I want to motivate myself. However, this usually backfires and I end up with writer’s block, because I can’t sort the story out in my head.
Realizing this explained why the words “Just write” made me freeze up and want to take a baseball bat to my laptop. All of those articles and blog posts were telling me what to do, but wouldn’t explain why I was dealing with writer’s block in the first place.
Understanding the problem is the first step in finding a cure.
I imagine that the phrase, “Just write” works fine when you’re out of ideas. After all, you’ve just got to release a new stream of creativity. It’s when you’ve got too much to deal with that you begin to over-analyze the story, and it becomes real writer’s block.
Once I understood that I was over-intellectualizing my work, the mental blocks all made sense. I couldn’t write because I was blocking my creativity.
It’s a First Draft!
I’ll be the first to say that I have problems with writing first drafts. Why? I’m a perfectionist. Majorly. Thus my over-thinking issues. But the truth is, you can’t go about fixing something unless it exists. My writer’s block stemmed from the fact that I was trying to “fix” my story before it even hit the paper.
First drafts are about feelings; emotions. They’re for scoping out your story and exploring it. All the tedious intellectualizing can be saved for draft two. As my friend so aptly said, “Seriously, don’t think about it. Your first draft can look like a kindergartner wrote it.”
And it’s true. Something has to be real before it can be beautiful.
Know Your Writer’s Block
In conclusion, this isn’t meant to be another “how you beat writer’s block” post, so much as “this is what I think writer’s block is.”
Saying “Just write” doesn’t help. It’s identifying some of the reasons why you’re struggling that will help you. Everybody has a different experience when it comes to writer’s block, and knowing what you’re dealing with can change everything.
How do YOU fight the “writer’s block monster”? Got any tips for the rest of us? Comment below.
I’m an eighteen-year-old homeschool graduate from southern Missouri. My passions include music, art, and, of course, writing—which drastically improved when I took The One Year Adventure Novel course during my sophomore year of high school. I’m the oldest of five, and have a part-time job as a freelance editor, as well as my aspiring career in novel-writing.