The Masks Of Writer’s Block

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If you’ve ever tried to write anything more important than a random message to someone over the Internet, then you’ve likely encountered writer’s block. That odd, undefined mental event that keeps one from getting any workable ideas, or prevents you from making full use of a good concept. If you’ve ever tried your hand at writing a novel, chances are you’ve managed to get a good start or two, but something happened along the way. Chances are, you’re still telling yourself that you’ll get back to that piece and give it the proper narrative it deserves, even if you don’t even remember when you last opened that file. There’s a very good chance you might even feel a touch of anxiety in going back to it. The fact is, writer’s block is one of those undefinable states of mind that can kill even the best ideas.

The nature of writer’s block makes it difficult to pin down or describe. Some have pointed to performance anxiety as being a condition that writers commonly misconstrue as writer’s block. The inability to competently perform – or write, as the case may be – can often be interpreted as performance anxiety, particularly if the problem occurs at the perceived “onset” of the creative process. This is far from being an absolute assumption, however, as some people have a creative process that experiences natural difficulty in getting a project started, but picks up speed as the narrative is constructed. That sort of event is more closely tied to the personal intricacies of the creative process, rather than to any outright form of performance anxiety. It is possible for writers to manifest symptoms of performance anxiety when writing sequels or prequels to previously published novels, but even that observation is debatable.

In some cases, status anxiety has also been “labeled” as writer’s block, particularly for authors who write successful series. The reasoning behind this is that the initial work gains more popularity the longer the series goes on, which in turn, puts more and more pressure on the people responsible for the series. Assuming that the series is written by a single author, that poor soul has to bear the burden of continuing a series that has not only established itself in the literary market, but they also has to contend with an even more difficult task: the author must also contend with the written canon of his own work. Sometimes, the pressure for the next novel in a series to outdo the previous ones can take the form of status anxiety. The author may feel status anxiety as he writes the novel, preventing him from completing any significant portions of the new narrative for fear that it does not match up to the previous one. In theory, the anxiety just gets worse with every novel that gets churned out.

Of course, there is also the perennial cause of the temporary “death” of a person’s creativity: laziness. Let’s face it, writers – and, by extension, all other creative types – are as prone to fits of laziness and lack of motivation as the next worker along the assembly line that is modern society. Far more often than any author would like to admit, writer’s block is really just a fancy cover for being lazy. There will always be times when a writer simply would not feel the inclination to write, but this can often be seen as a mistake. Writing is like a martial art, in some ways, because you’re never going to really master it without testing your skills repeatedly against opponents and sparring partners. Laziness and procrastination just contribute to a decline in skill that makes whatever writing project you decide to undertake significantly harder than the last one you finished.

In my experience, the primary reasons for writers block are as follows:

  1. Trying to use two different parts of the brain at once. Creativity employs one section of your brain and the assembly of words into coherent sentences and paragraphs employs another. A few people seem capable of both activities at the same time but if the rest of us will just do all the creativity in an outline, jotting down the bare bones of the plot, we could then turn all our attention to the presentation.
  2. Expecting perfection in the first draft. Many new writers especially, have the mistaken idea that the first draft should result in a perfect manuscript, ready to publish. Nothing could be further from the truth. The first draft is just to get the basic story laid out, then the real work begins. Rewriting, tweaking, editing, or whatever you call it can take as long or longer than the initial drafting process. The first draft can be compared to a piece of granite on the sculptor’s work table. It must be chiselled and formed into something fit to share with the public.
  3. Human laziness as mentioned above. The human brain will work harder on trying to avoid anything it doesn’t find pleasurable than it will on actually writing. Whether it’s a game of Tetris or scrolling through social media, it will always try to steer us toward things we enjoy most. Consequently we often have to put extra effort into channeling our brains toward creative activity. Some people find it helpful to set a timer and focus on the job at hand for 20 minute work sessions interspersed with five minute reward breaks

Face it, for most of us, writing is not a natural process. We need to program our brains to do our bidding rather than take over and threaten our production. Some of the things we can do to make that happen are:

  • Have a special place and time set aside for your writing and don’t allow other things to interfere.
  • Let your family know your writing time is important to you and you need as few interruptions as possible.
  • Try to end each writing session in mid scene, knowing exactly what’s coming next when you return to it.
  • When you finish your first draft put it away for at least 2 weeks or longer if you can. When you come back to it you’ll see it with fresh eyes.

Here’s wishing you well with your writing efforts and when you do finish your manuscript I hope you’ll consider sending a chapter to Eye Edit Books for a free sample edit.

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