I am not a fan of the term “writer’s block.”
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 we all know that writing is a mental process.
The truth is, the times I’ve struggled to write have been when I was trying too hard to find words. I was searching for words, rather than simply saying what I wanted to say.
When I tried to make things sound nice, whether with fancy words or a certain tone, I struggled. When I thought more about how it would sound than what needed to be said, I struggled. When I tried to write in a voice that wasn’t mine, I struggled.
These were the things that led to my writer’s block.
But I think the whole block thing is overrated. I propose a new term: “writer wandering.”
It’s really 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. Sometimes, our writing is clear and quick in reaching its destination; others, it likes to meander, leaving us frustrated as we wonder where exactly it has gone.
But even though our writing may sometimes wander away, it will always return. Introducing this idea of concrete, cement blocks to the picture is wholly unnecessary.
When it feels like my writing has wandered just a little too far away and I want to call it back, I use these writing strategies:
1. Write by hand—at least to get the initial idea and flow going.
An empty page of a Word document has always seemed so much more daunting than an empty sheet of paper to me. There is something about a physical piece of paper that I find to be 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 dances nonetheless. Let the pen dance. Let it pirouette on the page, translating thought into script. Let it dance freely, as we begin to recognize the words it paints.
At worst, you’ll draw a pretty picture.
2. Don’t force it, or ignore it.
In some of the writing courses I’ve taken in my life, the teachers gave us writing prompts that asked us to write whatever came to mind for five minutes pending a small 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.
We were also given longer topics, in which we had a week to formulate an article around the idea. In both of these cases, we were not forced to write, but simply encouraged, the intent being to get us into the habit of writing, and hopefully to have that writing be of benefit.
Some of the prompts had my fingers dancing on the keyboard for hours straight, while others provoked almost no reaction. In the 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 on paper or to get the words in the right order, leave them and come back to them the next day.
The important thing is to catch it as it comes. We can always go back and rework it later.
4. 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 attuned to 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 or more present than others. Realize that there will be times when we are more in tune with the flow of words and other times when we are less so—but those words are always available to us.
5. Don’t discriminate.
Sometimes the words we craft will be beautiful and graceful, but often, they will be messy, ugly, and outright embarrassing. Sometimes they will dazzle and inspire with their radiant dance; other times they should be simply be acknowledged and 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.
6. 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 yourself 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.
Author: Michelle Amanda Jung
Image: Simson Petrol/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton