Have you ever had a day that you couldn’t write? When the blank computer screen seems to taunt you? You’re not alone. Books and articles have been written on the topic, telling writers how to break free of it and what to do when it hits.
Britain’s poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, apparently experienced block right in the middle of his laureateship.
“For when creative blockage sets in, the blank page before you grows to the size of a tablecloth. The grey laptop screen seems to hum with malignity. You feel you have nothing of interest or amusement to impart to the world.”
Was the Queen indifferent to his writing or was it the relative isolation of the job that caused it?
John Walsh, reporter for The Independent, names other writers who have suffered from it—Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield.
Closer to home, a student in my writing class told me that she could not write, but she wanted to. While she was still quite young, her father had used letters to impose discipline. As an adult, she still felt frozen, with all the stories stuck inside, and so she signed up for my class hoping to break out of that state. It took weeks, but with encouragement and writing exercises, she started to write, and she did it well. We celebrated with her on the final class of the term.
Is it for real?
Other writers say there is no such thing. Who am I to argue with such prolific writers as Jerry B. Jenkins or the late Pierre Berton? Did they treat it as an assignment with a due date and just start writing something? Or did they stop in the middle of an exciting place to help them get started again?
In Writing for the Soul, Jenkins suggests that procrastination could be the problem, that the writer needs another cup of coffee or something else.
I’m not so sure. If I were in the employ of the Queen, as Motion was, procrastination wouldn’t be wise. Perhaps writers’ block is not universal and not all people experience it.
Ideas on breaking writer’s block
If you’re stuck, here are some ideas to get you writing again.
- Make a time and place to write. Some writers go to a coffee shop; still others like peace and quiet. Between those writing sessions, take a notebook and pen with you wherever you go, then jot down ideas that come to mind.
- Find a group of writers. Join a writer’s organization, take a class in creative writing, join online discussions with other writers; you will learn from them and be inspired.
- Find a book or website with writing prompts/exercises. Search your local library for books about writing, or type in ‘writing prompts’ on Google and see what comes up. Then start writing.
- Read. Find books in the genre or type of writing you want to do. Read them for inspiration. Read poetry, essays and memoirs—whatever it is that you aspire to write.
Once you’ve put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, you’re on your way. Pull out that notebook from your pocket or briefcase. Those small notes and bits of inspiration could help on a day when you’re feeling stuck.
Carolyn Wilker, author of Once Upon a Sandbox, freelance editor and creative writing instructor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or for more information on her work, go to her website at www.carolynwilker.ca