Our friends over at The Well-Red Mage posed their third “big question,” and it’s something that I think many writers struggle with: how do you overcome writer’s block? In the spirit of collaboration, and of maybe helping other writers/bloggers who struggle with this, I’m here to chat a little bit about writer’s block and ways that I overcome it.
Defining the Block
Writer’s block is actually a condition that has been officially documented and researched since the 1940s, although there are many examples of it cropping up now and again prior to it being officially recognized as a real problem that authors have. Writer’s block is, for those of you lucky enough to have never experienced it, a state of being in which a writer is unable to produce new works.
This can happen for a variety of reasons, from emotional ones (depression, focusing on other things, etc.), stress, life changes that force the writer’s attention elsewhere, or something even arising from the work itself.
I’ve actually experienced writer’s block stemming from this last reason; I was writing a fanfiction and I realized about halfway through it that, underneath all the twists and turns of the plot, I was actually working through some problems I was having at the time. Interestingly, once my problem resolved, I never was able to find the inspiration to finish the story, because the whole project was driven by me wanting to get feelings out, not actually tell a story.
Stress can play a large part as well, as high levels of stress can actually affect how your brain processes information, slipping into a more emotional/fight-or-flight mode and out of a more cerebral/analytical one. When busy with stress, it’s hard for the brain to create as most of its energy is dealing with the intense emotions it’s trying to process.
But for me, I tend to have writer’s block stemming from my emotional state and, surprisingly, from the time of day that I try to write.
This is luckily not something I have a problem with. When it comes to articles here, I generally find inspiration from reading other blogs, looking at gaming news, or playing a new game. When it comes to my creative writing, I pull inspiration from other stories or movies, video games, and, if I’m really feeling daring, I pull from my own thrillingly fascinating life. My imagination is overly active, so if I’m not writing it’s not because I don’t have any ideas, for which I’m thankful.
This is one of the reasons I have trouble writing sometimes. I am a pretty nocturnal person, but unfortunately like most people, I have to work during the day, meaning that if I’m going to sleep, it needs to happen at night. When I was in graduate school, we were encouraged to write and work when we were most productive, and to be aware of when words and ideas came easiest. For me, that is the middle of the night. Most of my blog posts are written between 10:00pm and 2:00am, which is great for you guys but pretty crappy for my job the next morning. And then pretty crappy for my writing the next evening when I’m exhausted, too.
So, sometimes when I have a very early morning, a day full of clients, and then finish it off with some bookkeeping at my job, I’m pretty wiped out by the time 10:00pm comes around. Not to sit here and whine about things, but I’ve also had some issues with depression recently (who doesn’t nowadays, it seems), so if I don’t take care of myself I really wind up without any energy.
The way I overcome this probably isn’t that healthy. Since I can’t afford therapy or medication for the depression, I self-medicate with caffeine, which doesn’t keep me awake but at least counteracts the general low energy I feel. And I’ll nap between 9:00pm and midnight some evenings, only to get up and write until 2:00 or 3:00am, before napping until 6:45am when my alarm goes off. Once things level out, I’m sure this will change, but it’s working so far. I don’t recommend it at all, but it’s working.
For this, my takeaway advice would be to find when you are most productive and feel most energized and excited to write. Maybe it’s in the morning when it’s quiet before breakfast. Maybe it’s at night. Maybe it’s at 2:00am. But figure out when that time is and try to protect it, if you can.
This is a big one, especially right now. It just seems like so much work sometimes, to research a topic and make coherent thoughts about it.
Honestly, I force it. I make myself write an outline (or jot down ideas) for all the points I want to make on a topic. By the time I’m done with that, I’m ready to write an introduction. And since I wrote an introduction, maybe I’ll just write another section or two. Oh, I just thought of the questions I want to ask at the end? I’ll jump down there. Well, since I have the questions, maybe I’ll just write a quick draft of the whole article….
It’s the same thing with creative writing. I’ll tell myself that I’m going to write one page, even if it’s the most awful page of writing ever, and then once I start I usually wind up going for much longer than originally anticipated. And if it’s horrible, then I can always go back and fix it later. After all, writing badly can eventually lead to something really great, but not writing at all leads to nothing.
I hesitate to tell people to force themselves to write, but I think of everything else I’ve ever accomplished: if I only practiced violin on “good days” or only on days I felt like it, I never would have gotten the scholarships to attend university. If I only wrote my thesis when I felt good about it, I’d have never graduated. If I only went to physical therapy when it didn’t hurt, I’d still not be able to put weight on my leg.
Sometimes things suck, and they’re hard, and maybe you feel like you want to quit, but if you want the payoff at the end (whatever that is for you), you do it anyway. Maybe for some people this isn’t an issue, because your goals might be different than mine, and that’s cool, too. But for me, and for what I want both for this blog and for myself, I force myself to push through even when it’s hard, because I have my goals and I’m intent on achieving them.
Reasons to Write
This is one of the most important ones. Answering “Why am I writing?” is a pretty big and terrifying undertaking. “Because I have a story to tell,” “because this topic needs to be discussed,” “because I played this awesome game” are all great reasons to write. It’s easy to say “I write because I love it” or “I write because I have to,” and I do think there is something to that, at least on a large scale.
But why this? Why this topic? Why this idea? Why this story? This is the reason I abandoned that one story: it was only there to help me get through a rough time. The stories – both original and fanfiction – that I’ve finished have had much more profound reasons for being written, from being about characters I love to being a story that needed to be told so it could be talked about.
Here, I write because I love video games. Each topic I’ve written about has been something I’m interested in, and the reason I’ve written it is because it was special to me for some reason or another.
This article, for instance, is special because I’ve been having such lack of motivation and energy to write. The reason this was written, though, is because I hope someone else will find something they need from the words here, either feeling like they’re not alone, or feeling inspiration to get through their own blocks. Again, knowing why I’m doing it usually gives me a reason to sit myself down and try to write something even when it’s hard.
Writer’s block is hard to overcome, but finding inspiration when and where you can, and remembering why it is that you want to write in the first place is always so helpful (at least to me) when trying to push through so I can come out on the other, more creative and easy, side.
Thanks to the Well-Red Mage for another fantastic question to answer. I’ll unfortunately be sitting out #004, but hopefully I’ll be back if there is ever a #005 that needs answering!
What about you? Have you ever had writers block? What did you do about it? Let me know in the comments, or write your own post and link below so we can all gain insight from your experiences!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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