Writer’s Block is an excuse, and not a very good one. Yes, you read that right. It might work on your writing professors, who understand that creativity flows differently between individuals, and friends who know how hard it is to write three papers in one sitting, but exploiting its existence doesn’t do you any favors at all. The term Writer’s Block was coined in 1947 by Dr. Edmund Bergler, as the condition of being unable to think of what or how to write, but it might as well have another meaning in today’s academic environment, and that’s “scapegoat terminology for the lack of want or attempt to write”.
Let me preface the following by saying that I’m aware that for people who want to write, ideas don’t come easily and the struggle to put words on paper is real. If this is you, then you are free to ignore this post. For the rest of us who may or may not want to write and consider it to be an onerous chore most if not all of the time, let’s continue.
It dawned on me as I read David H. Safford’s piece on Writer’s Block over at thewritepractice.com that a lot of us have a difficult time trying to sit down and write not because of some undetectable and elusive condition, but because in reality our brains understand that we simply do not want to write. All this time we’ve been flaunting this reluctance (and dare I say laziness) under the guise of the much fancier sounding Writer’s Block. With activity and everything else, our brain compartmentalizes our likes and dislikes so that when we are put to a task it knows whether to release the dopamine that is triggered when we are happy or engaged in activity we enjoy. Not everybody can enjoy writing, that much is obvious. What I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to not like writing. What’s not okay, at the very least to your professors, is putting off or avoiding your school work. At least try to get it done.
Who cares? You don’t need to know why you can’t write, you just need to finish that paper for English class already? Alright, alright.
Writing is a craft. You get better with practice and the more you do it the easier it becomes to churn out effective work quickly (but take your time either way). You may not be trying to win a Pulitzer, but the solution to your problem can easily be resolved in the same way that professional writers overcome true Writer’s Block.
How? Are you ready to be enlightened?
Write. Anything. Whatever comes to mind. If you have a prompt or a basic idea of what you need to write about but don’t know where to start, just writing whatever comes to mind might help get your gears turning. Of course it helps to also have done your research.
The blank screen is daunting to look at, but I find that once I start filling it in, I get into a zone—a state of writing zen—that tricks my brain into thinking “yes, we’re getting somewhere”, even if I’m not. The idea is to believe that you’re making headway so that writing that paper becomes a matter of finishing rather starting. When you reach that place and you see all those fine black letters staring back at you, it’s only so easy to manipulate them to get them to be the way you need them to. Edit, rearrange, delete, replace, and continue. It doesn’t have to make sense at first. While writing this post I moved paragraphs that didn’t work around to use later in some other place, and deleted redundant sentences as well as added new information. Then I took all the separate pieces and sewed them back together with transition words and phrases as my thread. Think of your writing as a quilt of hundreds of different words that apart might not mean anything, but when stitched together serve a purpose. You can’t make a quilt without the pieces of fabric. To start yours, put the words down first and figure out the design later.
Writer’s Block may take a long time for professional writers to resolve, but laziness and avoidance are easily remedied with initiative and will power. Next time you find yourself staring at an empty screen, remember that you’re going to have to start eventually, so don’t put it off and just write.