Does Writer's Block Exist?

Looking at this blog, and my lack of output over the last three months, a sympathetic reader might allow me to use writer's block as an excuse: "It's difficult, I don't know what to say, my clients will judge me, I need to feel inspired, I haven't got the time," and so on.

The idea of writers as artists, grappling with our thoughts, weighing up life's big questions, getting lost in mountains of 'research' while waiting for inspiration to strike, may be a romantic image but it allows far too much room for abuse.

Writer's block is a wishy-washy excuse, and writers fail to diagnose reality at their peril. It may feel like a warm and cosy reason for firing up a new tab and reading some news instead of writing, but I realise a closer examination is required to overcome the blank page and increase my output.

When looking more closely at the reasons behind my lack of published work, I have figured out the 3 main things that stand in my way.

Procrastination

I will hold my hands up and confess to being a procrastinator. This is especially problematic when it comes to personal projects where there is no client to make happy or deadline to hit. You're reading one of those projects right now, and I have several more bubbling away under the surface.

I haven't made enough progress with any of these things because I always seem to find something more important to do. In most cases, what I end up doing isn't more important, and I spend my spare time consuming far more than creating. I read more than I write. Reading is good for writers, but if I'm going to improve my skills as a writer I realise that I need to shift that balance so I'm writing a lot more than I am at the moment.

I figured out that the internet is a major distraction for me. That's why I prefer to write my first drafts with a pencil, with the computer only permitted for research and editing. Writing first drafts is the most difficult part of the writing process for me. It's the time when I lack confidence, struggle to organise my thoughts, and the temptation to consume instead of create is particularly strong.

It's much more difficult to write in your head than it is with your hands. Sitting around waiting for the perfect idea is far less useful than writing and letting the ideas flow from there. I have found thinking through writing is far more effective than trying to get things clear in my head before sitting down to write.

You can only get better at writing by writing. Although reading is very important, it can easily develop into procrastination. If I'm writing crime fiction, for example, I'll quickly tell myself that I need to go off and read more novels from an author I admire so I can study what they do and apply it to my work. Reading takes a lot of time, and it is never only one book - before you know it, I'm researching and then ordering a fresh pile of crime novels that I persuade myself I need to read before I can even attempt to write. The same is true for blog posts and other content marketing materials, although this research tends to take up far less space on my shelves. There is a fine line between carrying out productive research and avoiding the task that set it all off in the first place.

Don't waste time waiting for inspiration to strike, carry you to your desk, and help you write a perfect first draft. Writing is only ever done by sitting down and doing it, there is no perfect environment, nor an idea so brilliant that it will carry you through the writing process without facing problems along the way. Forcing yourself to sit down regularly and write will help you improve as a writer and snap out of dreams to face the reality of what you're planning to do.

Perfectionism

Working as a freelance writer has done wonders in hammering out my perfectionism, but I still have a long way to go. It's far too easy for me to get stuck on a sentence and rewrite it several times until it's as good as I can make it. The reality of swapping time for money is that the more time it takes me to write the less money I make.

Haven't tried, but I'm pretty sure using writer's block as an excuse wouldn't wash with clients who are expecting me to deliver on time. Applying something that resembles this external pressure to my own projects can prove tricky. Perfectionism is especially catastrophic when combined with one of my other problems and can easily result in a toxic mix that results in nothing getting done at all.

Boredom

Isaac Asimov, who published more than 500 books over his lifetime, had a good method for getting projects done when they started to get boring. He'd put a boring project to one side and start working on something that excited him more. He'd then return to the old project with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of energy, with words flowing again in no time. [Farnam Street]

Asimov's routine helped him out too. As obvious as it may sound, in a 1980 interview with David Letterman [YouTube], having published a mere 221 books so far, Asimov credited his output to sitting down and writing every day.

'I get up in the morning, sit down and write, and when I finish writing I go back to bed.' Isaac Asimov

A pattern that emerges with a lot of successful writers is that they embrace the writing process without being too fixated on what could happen at the end. Sitting down to write a novel can be an intimidating prospect unless you fall in love with the process of writing itself, and it can feel especially overwhelming if you have high hopes and strong opinions about what makes good writing.

Forming a habit and getting into the routine of writing every day is a great way to make sure that excuses, such as writer's block, are tougher to accept.

I need to make writing as important as brushing my teeth.  

© Oli Sharman 2021. All rights reserved.

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Oli Sharman

Oli Sharman

Freelance content marketing writer and strategist. I help tech businesses use content to attract, engage, and retain customers. Think and write about writing and content marketing.
London or Italy