Defeating Writer's Block

Taking a small break from what I usually write about, today's topic is going to be about writer's block, and the approaches I have to overcome it.

I honestly thought this was writer's block when I was young.

Writer's block, the idea in which one suddenly finds him or herself unable to continue writing, typically is something that plagues every writer across time and space. It's even applicable to arenas outside of written media, as the phenomenon occurs for musicians, filmmakers, and other artists as well. It also afflicts writers in all sorts of different ways. For novelists and screenwriters, it prevents them from getting to the next part of their story. For musicians and visual artists, it frustrates their ability to create something new. And for bloggers, we sometimes just have absolutely no idea of what to write on our next post.

Of course, I don't claim to have any definitive answers on the specific way someone is experiencing writer's block. And I don't even claim these solutions are all originally my own. But here are a few key ways that have helped me grapple with and overcome writer's block.

1. Write Down All Ideas, No Matter How Bizarre

One of the most helpful ways that allow me to keep writing is what I call “preparatory writing”. Basically, it means that the majority of what is published on my blog (or otherwise released to public, like videos on my Youtube channel), I've actually prepped beforehand. It helps me make sure I'm writing with my schedule that I've set down,

Along these lines of preparatory writing, I also make sure I write down every idea that I have. No matter how bizarre they may seem, or how outside of my comfort zone or the blog's supposed theme the ideas are, I still write them down. These aren't meant to be full-on writing sessions, but rather just scribbling down thoughts and ideas that enter into my head that feel inspiring or sound decently good.

There are sometimes, of course, when I notice a sort of flow or train of thought that simply spills out as I notate these ideas down. In entering into these flow states, sometimes they last a few minutes, and other times they last for hours. I notice this especially when I'm in a meditative or calm state, and just letting thoughts drift through, and a single one catches on in my mind, and I go to write it down to save for later. But that is often not the norm.

And so, when I don't push away thoughts and ideas, and instead write them down, in the end, when it's time that I sit down to formally write out these thoughts, I actually have a plethora of ideas to write from. Sometimes, I can even combine two different ideas into a single post, because they work really well together. But, had I not taken the initiative to write them down in the first place, I wouldn't have seen the through-line that enabled them to be combined.

2. Do Something New

Oftentimes, simply doing something new would reinvigorate or inspire me to write. There are a few ways I do this. First, since I like to read, reading something new almost always spurs ideas for a post or story idea. This is especially effective when I read on a topic that I'm not very familiar with, or at least haven't had much exposure to in a long time. In doing so, I find that I absorb information much more readily, and since I'm viewing it through a more unfamiliar lens, there's often a unique perspective that I haven't thought of that helps me with my work.

I've also found that getting into a new environment really stimulates my ability to write. Being able to look at things in a fresh way, and being surrounded by an environment that I'm not used to (and so having to pay more attention to it) makes me pay more attention to what's going on around me. By forcing my attention to focus in this way, it becomes pretty easy to actually begin or even continue writing where I had left off.

And then, going along with the idea of preparatory writing, I start jotting down and making note of ideas that I can then add onto or flesh out in the future. None of this preparatory writing is meant to completely flesh out an entire post or chapter or outline. Rather, it helps with the bits and pieces in the various things that I write for or on.

In the same way, I've also found that writing about something new can often spur a lot of inspiration and motivation. I've found this especially true in my musical adventures. Growing up as a classically trained musician, I've always found comfort in rigidity and proper practice or training. But, as I began to explore improvisation and sound synthesis (especially modular synthesis), I became so inspired with such a rush of ideas—that was when I decided to make a Youtube channel.

It's easy to get locked into this mode of what something should be or shouldn't be. For example, lots of helpful blogs and writing sites out there say that blogs should have a theme, or be focused on particular subjects. And while that may be helpful for many, I've found such restrictions unnecessary. After all (at least in my mind), blogs should be a reflection of someone's personal life. And very few of us can summarize our lives down to just one of two simplistic themes. So I've found that, even if I don't eventually post it, having the freedom to write whatever I want, no matter what restrictions should apply, has been the biggest boon to my own ability to put out content.

So, if you don't feel inspired, try doing something new! It may be just the thing that helps you defeat writer's block.

3. Write a Little Bit at a Time Across Different Things

There are times when I just can't focus. Actually, the idea for this post sprang up during a time when I just couldn't focus. Usually, to calm myself and my mind, I go and meditate. And while that sometimes helps, it's certainly not the end-all, be-all.

Instead, I've learned to also harness that inability to focus and just begin to write little bits at a time across different things or (in the case of blogs) different posts. By working on a lot of different things a little bit at a time, I not only take advantage of an inability to focus, but also progress in whatever I do.

For example, sometimes I would be working on editing a post. Then, a sudden thought or idea comes to me about another post that I've been prepping. Rather than quitting the current thing I'm working on, I instead open another window and work on both side by side, going where the inspiration hits me. In this way, I'm no longer fighting my own ideas and inspirations by focusing on only one thing, but rather allowing myself the freedom to work on multiple things at a time to get the same productivity.

This even helps me as a music teacher. I'll be the first to admit, there are times when I'm teaching a private music lesson, and I'm bored out of my mind. Especially in this 'age of coronavirus', where everything must be done online, and since video chat applications are so horrible at detecting the difference between talking, musical instruments, and ambient noises, there's a tendency to just wait while a student practices in front of you during the lesson time (cause there's nothing else to do).

During these times, I begin to apply my multi-tasking abilities I learned in grade-school. Since music and intonation are things I can do in the back of my mind, I actually often work on other things while I teach. It's not that I don't want to apply myself to teaching, but (again) rather that this is another way I've learned to make use of an inability to focus to be more productive.

4. Don't Worry about the Editing

Here's a big one that I've found. A friend and I were once chatting about her various story and world-building ideas that she had. When we typically talk, we often give feedback on each other's work. Most of the time, I focus on presentation and whether the story or characters have logical consistency about them.

However, during one of our conversations, I noticed that she was beginning to question her own works and ideas as well, criticizing them before even putting them into writing. It became such a problem that I had tell her to stop trying to analyze her own work and just go ahead to write it all down.

It's important to understand that writing and editing are actually two very different tasks. Writing is a creative task, meaning that when one writes, he or she is committing to the creation and construction of an idea. Editing, on the other hand, is a critical task, meaning that when one is editing, he or she is attempting to tear down and deconstruct the idea.

In my opinion, a writer should never mix these two things up. It is too easy for a writer to get lost in criticizing their own work. After all, no creative (at least that I know) would ever say there wasn't room for improvement in whatever they're doing. But often, when we mix critical with creative, it's easy to stop creating and just be critical, because it's easier to tear something down than build something up.

This is why we rarely find critics make something that is actually notable or worthwhile. For example, film critics are notorious for tearing down different movies, but are rarely able to make a movie themselves (and the ones that do don't often make something that's very good). As Anton Ego said in Pixar's 2007 film, Ratatouille:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

I'm not trying to brush aside criticism, but rather pointing out that these are different tasks. And, as a writer, it is instead better to write and flesh out an idea, and then go through and edit it afterwards. So don't worry about whether the idea is good before it's been written down as a draft. Just write.

5. It's OK to Take a Break

It's important to understand this. In today's world, it's easy to get stressed out over scheduling demands, deadlines, and the need to make money. Especially right now, where many families are dealing with financial issues due to being unable to work in countries where national shutdown is still the norm, it's easy to get caught up in the emotional turmoil of everything that's going on.

But we don't typically make the best decisions when in a “fight-or-flight” mode. When stress gets amped up, and our lives are looking more hectic or dangerous day-by-day, we often make decisions that will alleviate pressure in the short-term, but really hamper our futures long-term.

In industries where creativity is paramount, the fight-or-flight mode that we can get sucked into can hamper our ability to be creative. It is often easier to write a nasty, critical piece, or go with the flow of what everyone else is talking about, rather than striking out and writing something unique and different, but personally us.

But when we sit back, and just take things one step at a time, and even sometimes take a break from everything, we begin to see just how powerful we are in being able to take control of our lives for the better. I read this on Reddit, recently:

The idea is pretty tangible and real. But it's something that we can apply to all of our lives. Rather than always being worried about the next thing, or what's on the news, or scrambling for what we're supposed to write about, it's better to take a step back sometimes, and just take a break from it all.

And there it is! These are all ways that I've found to help me in times when I don't know what or how to write. Even if you're not a writer, I hope they've helped you out, or at least given some ideas you can apply in your own life!

Header Image credit to Pixabay.