Writer’s block is ‘Opposite Day’ in my writing life

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I am not someone who’s ever struggled with writer’s block.

I have what may be the opposite problem: Too many ideas and not enough time, opportunity, brain space, or energy to capture them all.

Like many writers, I get my ideas during the most inconvenient times. I often carry them around with me for a while before writing threads of them down.

This can be its own kind of hell, just as much as writer’s block can be.

I still write.

Trust me. The drive to write, to create, to tell a story, can be extraordinarily strong, butting up against other calls to action like work deadlines, chronic illness, and family emergencies.

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But when it comes to a blank page, that is a welcome sight to me: It means I have finally made time and space align with my energy in order to write!

Consider that reframing the concept of writer’s block may be in order if you freeze up every time you sit down.

Don’t be afraid

It’s not that I never feel stuck. It’s just that a blank page is not scary to me.

When I feel stuck, I start new projects or work on unfinished projects. You know you can do this, right? You can be working on multiple projects. They can be vastly different from each other.

For me, this is helpful, as it makes me exercise my creativity in different ways.

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It’s kind of like going for a road walk; walking up hills is hard, but going down hills works other muscles. Hills, then, are actually better for you than flats, because you get to exercise more of your muscles.

Working on multiple projects keeps me writing. This may mean I work on quick, easy projects at least until a large enough opportunity presents itself for my return to something bigger. Then, I can face those projects with more entrenched demands, such as:

  • Needing more research to move forward
  • Trying out a different plot structure
  • Removing a subplot that doesn’t work
  • Changing up the details in a thread that impacts the whole work
  • Switching my narrative approach from one POV to another

I tell myself what I frequently told my kids when they were in the middle of big school projects: Eventually, it all gets done.

Fifty-five years of living—as a working mother, someone society lends no free time to willingly!—has at least taught me that much.

Write your own rules

I long ago abandoned many rules of the “writing life” that were obviously written by people who had someone to pay their bills, clean their homes, and/or raise their kids.

Listen, I had help. I don’t deny it. I’m married. I’ve had the support of a spouse who makes the lion’s share of the income. I’ve even paid someone in the past to clean my house. I did not raise my children alone.

But here’s the thing. Even with the best situation:

Writing every day isn’t always possible.

(It’s okay. You can say that out loud and not be an imposter.)

Writing every day isn’t always possible.

I don’t write every day, and I’m still writing and publishing work, and have been doing so since the early 1990s.

If you can’t write every day, but you can write most days, or more days than not, you’re still a writer… with a life.

And it’s that life that fills your writer’s well. Revel in that. It’s your superpower!

Own the focus

I suggest all writers who struggle with block—who worry about finishing their work—to focus less energy on the struggle and more energy on the work itself.

Trust me, I know this as a person with chronic illness: You can’t choose the things that interrupt or change your life; many disruptions are simply beyond your control.

What you can change is how you respond to them, and how you frame your own story as a human being.

In short, it’s something my grandmother taught me: Do the best with what you have, and don’t think about what you don’t have (or have lost).

Just ask

Listen, if you’re stuck, it’s okay. Just ask your work what’s wrong.

Is it not a living thing? Do you not have a conversation with your writing every time you sit down to write?

Of course, you do.

So, ask it. What does it need? What does it want? Ask it what it doesn’t want. What it doesn’t need.

(Good ahead. I won’t eavesdrop.)

Your work will always tell you what it needs if prompted. The answers to your individual writing problems are almost always present in the questions you ask of the work itself.

You just have to ask, and then shut up and listen.

Living your best writing life

Be patient with yourself, in the meantime, and cleave to the pleasure, joy, and drive that compel you to write in the first place.

The cliché speaks volumes, after all: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. They don’t call it the writing hour or the writing day, they call it the writing LIFE.

  • If it’s time that’s haunting you, take some solace: Not everyone will be published while young.
  • If it’s acknowledgment you need, please accept that most writers will never be famous.
  • If you’re expecting to make big money as a writer, good luck with that.
  • If it’s space and opportunity that dog your writing life, take ownership! These may be things you can control.
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Henry David Thoreau was on to something.

Trust the process; throw away the timeline where you are supposed to be a famous author by age X.

Write because it’s something that makes you a whole person. Working at your craft is actually allowing you to live your best life.

Ditch that “labor of love” “passion project” nonsense

Writing, even when you hit difficult sections, should not feel like emotional, psychological, or physical labor. Writer’s block is a challenge, after all, and not a reason to quit. Writing itself should not feel like:

  • clocking in to a soul-eating desk job you hate
  • sitting four hours in a daily commute, watching your life pass by
  • breaking rocks in a labor camp
  • treating illnesses and wounds sustained in service to others

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Write because the journey of writing is the goal. Swap out your expectations and experiment instead. Experimentation is just a bunch of failures that lead, eventually, to success. The other cliché ascends: If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

And let go of the idea of passion projects. Writing is a process, not a project. Projects are for corporate hacks. Be a human when you write.

Block is a speed bump, not a locked gate. Block is an invitation, not a blacklist. Block is your work wishing you would ask it questions, wishing you would listen.

So, block or not, tell your stories, craft your words, make your magic. Do the best you can with what you have.

There will be at least one other person out there in the world who will find resonance in what you have to say, trust me. And that will make it all worth it. That, in the end, is part of the reason you write.

PS: Writing every day isn’t always possible. And that’s okay.


Image credit: “Opposite Day” (SpongeBob SquarePants, Season 1, Episode 9b) ©1999 courtesy Encyclopedia SpongeBobia (link)

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