I am not a fan of the term “writer’s block.”
I realized that, upon learning the term, I immediately started to have more difficulty writing. The term “block” brings some kind of physical, concrete object to mind. Like a heavy, granite stone that we have to physically shift aside in order to write, when writing, as we all know, is a mental process.
Let’s try on a new term: “writer wandering”. It is really very simple. If one wants to write, then they are a writer. Anyone can be a writer, and we have the ability to write at any time. At times our writing is clear and quick about its destination, while other times it likes to meander, leaving us frustrated as to where exactly it has gone.
It is really very simple. If one wants to write, then they are a writer. Anyone can be a writer, and we have the ability to write at any time. At times our writing is clear and quick about its destination, while other times it likes to meander, leaving us frustrated as to where exactly it has gone.
The important point is that though our writing sometimes likes to wander away, it will always return.
(To introduce this idea of concrete, cement blocks to the picture seems wholly unnecessary.)
And so, here are some of my personal writing strategies to address those instances when we feel our writing has wandered just a little too far from our vicinity and we would like to call it back:
- Write by hand (at least to get the initial idea and flow going).
An empty page of a Word Doc has always seemed so much more daunting than an empty sheet of paper to me. There is something about a physical piece of paper which I’ve found irresistibly more attractive, non-judgmental and inviting.
There is something about holding the pen in your hand, tip poised at the ready, and then – the pen just dances. It never fails. The dance may not be pretty or graceful, oftentimes it is clumsy, rigid, awkward and unsure, but it always dances nonetheless. Let the pen dance. Let it pirouette on the page, translating thought into script. Let it dance freely, as we begin to draw recognition at the words it paints.
(At worst, you will draw a pretty picture.)
- Don’t force it, nor ignore it.
Having taken some writing courses, we were often given writing prompts where we were to write whatever came to mind for 5 minutes from the cue. These prompts could be anything from “What I know is…” to “The first time I saw you…” – anything to trigger a flow of words going.
We were also given longer prompts/topics, in which we had a week to formulate an article around the idea. In both cases we were not forced to write, simply encouraged, with the intent of getting us in the habit or writing, and hopefully have that writing be of benefit.
Some of the prompts had my fingers dancing on the keyboard for hours straight, while other provoked almost no reaction. In such cases where there was zero response, I chose not to write anything at all. I admit this can be attributed in part to my general laziness (hey, there was no teacher going to hand me an F if I didn’t write anything), but mostly, I didn’t want to force it.
On the other hand, there have been many times when I have been prompted, or a better word in such cases could be called upon or inspired, to write when no formal prompt was given. Such times have come about randomly, suddenly and instantaneously, when the need to put thoughts into words was such that it could not be ignored.
And then, I wrote.
If hit with a sudden stroke of inspiration, get the initial idea or theme out into words (whether that be via pen or keyboard) and keep writing while you feel the connection. When you feel like you are having to fight to get the words and/or get the words in the right order, leave it and come back to it the next day.
The important thing is to catch it as it comes. We can always go back and rework it later.
- Realize that it is always there.
Writing is like air. It constantly surrounds us, yet sometimes we are more connected to it than others.
For example, when we are exercising or excited, we are actively aware of the oxygen pulsing through our body. Its beat is strong, we are conscious of its presence. We gratefully welcome the air as it enters our lungs.
When we practice meditation or yoga, we slow down and become mindful of our inhale and exhale, the gentle flow of air passing through our bodies.
In both cases, we are consciously more in tuned with the air.
However, for the most part, this is not the case. As we go about our day to day activities, we don’t even notice the air around us. Yet we are always breathing.
The same is true of writing. We can always do it, yet sometimes it seems more accessible, more present than others. Realize that there will be times when we are more in tuned with the flow of words, and other times less so, but that those words are always available.
- Don’t discriminate.
Sometimes the words will be beautiful and graceful, at other times they may be messy, ugly and outright embarrassing. Sometimes they will dazzle and inspire with their radiant dance, other times they should be acknowledged at best, then left to go about their way.
Be those words beautiful or ugly, inspiring or frightful, recognize that they are equally meaningful and meaningless at the same time.
As mentioned earlier, forget about the words. Forget about the tone. Forget about the style (at least initially). Forget about the way in which you want to say something. Rather, mentally picture what it is you want to say, and then say it.
- (Release the pressure and) forget that your writing even wandered away in the first place.
Go for a walk, hang out with friends, go outside – just do something other than forcing oneself to write. I’ve often found that the minute I forget I was looking for that wandering mistress we call writing, she pokes her head back in my view and decides that, actually, she wants to stay awhile.
Remember that there is no cement block sitting on your laptop preventing you from typing. There is no pile of stones hiding your journal and crushing your pens. Writing – like the air around us – is always there.
All you have to do is be open to writing, and she will be sure to wander back to you.
Originally published on Elephant Journal.