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Fiction Friday: Writer’s Block and How To Fight It

It happens to everyone. Everyone hates it, and everyone claims to know the fix for it. Writer’s block, when the thought of putting words onto a page, onto a blank Word document sends a writer into anxiety or sadness, feelings of inadequacy.

Most writers will tell someone to just write through it, force yourself to put words after words after words on a white page. Eventually you’ll break the block, chipping away at it until everything comes fully free.

(If you can get around the anxiety and self-editing, if you can accept that those chips will not be perfect, that they’ll likely be ugly and not what you want).

(But they are better than nothing, than a mocking page staring back at you, a blinking and still cursor).

(Don’t look at the word count, though).

They’ll tell you to take a walk, clear your head, step away from the spot where you’re giving yourself stress. Get away. Give yourself space to let those negative thoughts empty out, falling behind your wake as you walk through maybe a park or your streets or you go for a drive and get lost. Then you have a new kind of anxiety, but at least it isn’t writing anxiety.

No one tells you when to go back, though, and maybe you never do because the walk or the drive, the escape feels better than sitting at a laptop that tells you your words aren’t good enough to see the light of day.

You have every intention of getting past it. Of finding a way through, and putting tools in your box for the inevitable day week or month where it comes back.

Some writers will tell you to replenish - rest, read, switch mediums. Go back to books you love, rediscover why you love writing in the first place. Jump start your ideas by soaking in the words of others. Watch a movie if you can’t bear to sit and read and wallow in your own jealousy - how could this writer get this done when I can’t? You think about Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton, writing like he’s running out of time, and balk at starting just a damn blog post. You think about Taylor Swift, releasing two full albums of music in nine months of quarantine and wish you could absorb those words into yourself and turn them into something else.

You put your glasses on, make a cup of tea, put socks on so your feet don’t get cold sitting under your desk. Get your hair out of your face in a way that won’t give you a headache. Light a candle. Shift your pillows to get comfy. Fix your posture. Put headphones in, and choose some sounds. Open your laptop, open your Word processor, put your hands on the keyboard. And wait.

You stall.

There’s a scraping feeling. Like an engine struggling to turn over. Rev, rev, rev, sputter out.

You know you have to write something. Anything. You call yourself a writer, after all, got paid for it once upon a time. Started a blog because you thought you had things to say, things you thought people would want to read.

But the words of one of your favorite writers comes back to haunt you, a scene playing endlessly in your head.

You put your phone on Do Not Disturb, turn on grayscale mode so the colors don’t draw you in because maybe mentally sometimes you’re a five year old and easily attracted to the brightness. (You still get drawn into social media, though, before chastising yourself that you’re on a self-imposed deadline).

(But that one Instagram post calls you out specifically and you just have to share it really quick…)

Your tea is gone by now, and you still don’t know what to write for today.

Maybe a calendar would’ve helped, a plan, but it’s too late for that now.

It’s time to write, and that scraping feeling comes back. A knife looking for the last bits of peanut butter at the end of the jar, to scrape across that piece of bread that is your word document.

You could just watch that one movie, because that story wraps around you like a blanket, a long practiced comfort that reminds you of a time when that one story was your world. But it's three hours you can't give away. You could go back to bed, back to your current book, a story about a French girl in New York that has been alive for hundreds of years, but no one remembers her. Think about the struggles that that writer shared in getting that particular story out into the world. Find a little feeling of schaudenfreud in that - that famous writers struggle in the same way.

And that was before the pandemic, before the shutdowns and stay at home orders. In a world with weekend mornings at the bar, with grandmother visits and hugs, with travel plans and airplane seats and airport air. With the thrill of a new city and streets, new accents and languages. Before historic death rates and fear of going outside, anxiety over how to keep on living, how the people around you are staying safe and protected. Wear a mask, carry hand sanitizer, change your clothes as soon as you get home.

(That is water, wearing smooth your own edges, because you can’t fight back - you can only go with it).

Before you know it, though, you are chipping. You are typing, unsure of where it will go, or what it even is, but it is better than nothing. Those chips turn into words, not sure if the block is going away but it isn’t in the way, and maybe you don’t even think this is what you wanted, you wanted to write something else, but didn’t know what that was.

That doesn’t matter, because what you write now is true. It is honest, even when you didn’t plan on being honest, or think that anyone cared about this kind of honesty from you.

The truth is that there is no surefire way to fight writer’s block. If there is, no one has shared it which is just as well.

You just gotta try.


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