So I have (now had, I suppose, since I’m all graduated) two very influential professors with two very opposing views. One believes that writer’s block is a total crock, an excuse for lazy writers who have succumbed to the dark side (watching too much television). On the flip side, I have another professor who wrote her dissertation on writer’s block and is adamant that it exists.
For me, personally, I’m not sure I’ve ever had writer’s block. I have had times where I want to write, and do, and times where I don’t want to write, so I don’t. Now, of course I’ve had stories and papers to write that I didn’t feel like doing, but that wasn’t, I don’t think, due to any blockage, I just wasn’t in the mood.
So if I sit down before a computer, put my hands on the keys and nothing comes out, is that writer’s block? Does it only have to happen once or must it last for days or weeks or months?
I’m never at a loss for story ideas. Words to convey them, yes, but the ideas come pretty regularly. It often happens when I run. Partly, I think, this is because running is kind of meditative for me. Focused only on the sound of my breath, I am open and empty. In these moments I am not directing my thoughts toward anything in particular so I am often hit with waves of quiet that crest with ideas. Now, keep in mind, I rarely run with music and rarely less than six miles. That’s at least 50 minutes of mental down time.
So if you’re at a loss for ideas, try finding something that puts you in this open, meditative state. Maybe actually meditating will do it, but, if not, it must be something repetitive that doesn’t distract your brain. Something that lets you let go.
Now, the hard part – the words. So, as a professional writer, I often find myself running out of words. At the end of the day, after a 12-page paper on the symbolism of medieval giants in pre-1600 literature to a press release on breaking news in healthcare IT, my words are just freaking tapped. The ideas are there, but the effort to put them into paper is not.
Sorry to do this to you, but, again, running saves me. There is a certain amount of discipline it takes to reach a goal when you run. Whether it’s a certain time or distance, you set this goal and you don’t stop grinding until you achieve it. The same mentality must be pulled out for writing. Stopping at three miles is tempting, and you can come up with all kinds of excuses between those miles to stop. But when you feel mile three pass and you’re still going, still churning, you feel empowered. The remote control may be tempting, but when you sit down, shut it all out and just start writing, you’ll feel charged. Electrified. Even if it starts out as total crap, it will morph into something as soon as you pass mile three and keep going.
So, does that mean writer’s block is a myth? Or it is a monster? Maybe neither. For me, writer’s block is just an excuse, no more, no less. It’s a reason to wallow in stagnation. The mind, like the body, needs movement to stay alive.