The dreaded blank page. A cursor blinking in time to the beat of your heart, every stroke a missed opportunity to lay down another word, to piece together the story in your mind and bring it to life on paper.
We joke about “writer’s block,” or worse yet, live in fear and trembling of when it might strike us as writers. Can the well of inspiration run dry? Is it possible to run out of ideas, or at least what we consider the good ones? Is it a disease, something requiring treatment or long periods of self-evaluation and inner reflection?
Although numerous studies have been conducted to elucidate the causes and potential remedies for writer’s block, I won’t enumerate those here. Instead, I’ll offer my honest opinion about creative blockage from personal experience.
Writer’s block exists to the extent that I allow it to control my decision whether or not to write that day. I don’t mean to sound simplistic, but it is as simple as the decision to say “yes” or “no.” I can always write something, whether it’s a journal entry about how I’m feeling or a few scribbled notes about a story idea or plot element I’m working on.
The important thing is that I say “yes” to my writing, every day.
I don’t mean to imply that the “yes” is easy. Sometimes it is, often it isn’t.
For me, the “blocked” feeling hits as soon as I start to either a.) worry excessively about following the perceived “rules” of writing or b.) worry about what others will think of what I’ve written. In other words, the more self-conscious I become about the work I’m doing, the more likely I am to freeze in fear of not measuring up. I lose the joy of what captivated me about the idea in the first place, and I get hung up on the externals. My internal love for the story falters, and I slip.
This might sound like a jump, but bear with me. Learning about different brainwave states felt revelatory for me shortly after incorporating yoga and meditation into my life and writing routine. In short:
Beta state is where our brains spend most of our waking hours. It’s where we feel most strongly engaged in mental activities and is great for productivity, concentration, increased logic, and critical thinking. However, spending excessive amounts of time in a beta state results in overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and burnout.
In Alpha state, we are relaxed both physically and mentally. Our hemispheres are synchronized and the brain is fully active. This is the state induced by activities like yoga or meditation, artistic creation, or simply taking a break to go on walk. Here we experience expanded mental clarity and the link between our conscious and subconscious mind exists at its strongest.
I might argue that a feeling of flow comes from being in a deeper Theta state, in which body awareness vanishes and we feel heightened intuition, inspiration, as well as deep-seated peace, contentment, and even bliss.
My point is this: writer’s block exists in Beta state. Trick your brain into Alpha state and you’ve won the battle. Release your subconscious mind from the storm of anxiety that Beta state produces, and it will connect you to the heart of fascination with your story once again.
Here are some practical ways to do this:
- Cultivate a regular habit of ingesting the things that inspire you. When I start to feel dry, I turn to the books, poems, music, or artwork that first inspired the idea of the piece I’m working on. Many times when I encounter difficulties with a story, it’s because I moved quite far away from my initial “mind’s eye” conception of the piece. Returning to what inspired me in the first place can be all the refresher I need to get the writing back on the rails, so to speak.
- Try your hand at a new form of writing. Don’t let apathy for your writing set in! If you are starting to feel bored or overwhelmed with your current WIP, turn to a new form of writing, such as poetry, short stories, or flash fiction. A change of pace might be all you need to reignite your motivation for your long-form projects, i.e., novels.
- Don’t take your moods too seriously. I’m serious about this one. *laughs* The wonderful thing about achieving Alpha state is that my mood seems to disappear once I’m there. I may approach the blank page cranky, self-conscious, or even despairing over my writing, but once I immerse in my created world, I’ve forgotten whatever mood I started out in. Every thought and emotion is for the story from there on out.
- Be open to wild, new ideas. First drafts are all about exploration, so don’t be afraid to let your imagination loose in this phase of writing. Editing comes later. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, that first draft is for getting your idea down on paper. Don’t lose sight of what initially attracted you to the idea and just write.
- Build a trusted community of readers and critiquers. They will be your cheering squad from the sidelines when you need it! These are the folks you can trust with your work in its early stages. Likely, they will be other readers, writers, or professionals – people who can show you what both the strengths and weaknesses of your work are, and help connect you to the deeper truths you are trying to impart.
“Writer’s block” doesn’t have to be a real thing, not for those of us with stories to tell and words to put to paper. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Drop me a line. Let’s see if we can inspire each other in our writing journey!