“One day, the songs stopped coming. And while you’ve suffered from periods of writer’s block, albeit briefly, this is something chronic. Day after day, you face a blank page and nothing is coming. And those days turn to weeks and weeks to months and pretty soon those months have turned into years, with very little to show for your efforts. No songs.” – Sting, 2014 TED Talk, Sting: How I started writing songs again
Writers of every style and form suffer from time to time where the slate goes blank. Most would call this “writer’s block”. I am not particularly fond of the term. I find it too negative, which is counterproductive to creativity. A block is something that I see as a brick wall, an impenetrable barrier. Something that I am never getting through. I attribute the term “writer’s block” to those things in my day-to-day life that keep me blocked from writing. Things that are out of my control.
A blank slate, not being able to form your words is not writer’s block. There is nothing substantial blocking you from writing but yourself and your mind. It is something that can be overcome. There is nothing impenetrable there.
Something has happened to cause this blank slate, and it is one of the most frustrating things for writer because it is 100% within our control. Our page sits empty and nothing comes. We have free time from family / work / responsibilities to dedicate to this craft and yet the page remains blank.
It is because for a moment, we have stopped thinking and fear of the words never coming back. Internally, you go into a panic dreading that you will never write again, that the words will never come back. It is self-sabotage and that causes your imagination to shut down.
The words have disappeared, however they are not blocked. In actuality for this period of “blankness”, your words are just on vacation. They are not choked from flowing, they just don’t feel like flowing. Words need inspiration and stimulation. Go hunt them down and bring them back to where you are. Get your words and yourself back on track by starting at the beginning and stir that creativity pot.
No, I don’t mean that you have to start plotting or writing your piece all over again, but instead revisit the beginning. Look at what originally fueled the flames of your imagination when the project began. Reconnect with who you were at the start of the project. Talk to the old you and your muse. Find out what inspired you in the first place to get the imagination steaming. In Sting’s experience, he had to physically go back to where he came from — back to the beginning of everything — to get the words flowing again. Where ever that beginning for you, that is where you have to get your words back from their margarita-filled holiday. If you can’t take a break – neither should they.
Now, if you are starting fresh on a new project, and you are drawing a blank on how to get moving, Sting made an interesting point in his TED Talk, that I believe is a fantastic solution. Think about others instead of about yourself. Typically, writers tend to put themselves into their work. And when the well runs dry within our own perception, shift to another person’s. Look at someone else’s happiness and struggles, anger and passions. Use those experiences, events, and emotions as inspiration for your words.
The times of blank slates are only temporary. Your words are not gone forever. However, you have to be proactive and can’t just sit by, waiting for them to return. Go hunt them down! Get yourself and your words back on track by re-exploring why you are writing. Reconnect with your beginning and subject to your muse. Your words will follow and flow.
“your words are just on vacation” I like that. Great post, great advice.
Thanks, Dan 🙂
I really needed this just now! My words seem to have been on vacation since last year and I’ve been really discouraged, not knowing what to do. I guess I’ll get back to plotting my novel. Thank you so much!
You are welcome and happy to hear that the post was what you needed. Don’t get discouraged as it will make your words want to stay on vacation longer 🙂 Channel the spark that originally inspired the words for this novel. That should help to get you back on the plotting path. Let us know how it goes.
I tend to be somewhat self-centered when it comes to writing, drawing upon personal experiences and feelings to fuel the fire – if you will. It is an absolutely brilliant observation and idea to look outside ourselves for ideas. It is perfectly common sense, but as we all know – common sense is not always common practice 😉
Thanks for the great post and advice, stellar as always 😉
Good and timely advice. I’m stuck myself with a novel I’m trying to work on. I know that more than anything else, I need to just sit down and face the page. My favorite advice about dealing with getting stuck came from the poet William Stafford: “Lower your standards.” I’m never out of words, but I get scared that the words I have won’t be good enough. So when I lower my standards, that often does the trick. I can always raise my standards when I’m revising. Isn’t that what revision is for? 🙂
“Lower your standards.” I like that. I’m often faced with the same dilemma — it’s not a lack of words that’s the problem, it’s the feeling that they may not be the right ones.
When I did academic writing, that attitude was absolutely essential. Of course the first words I came up with often weren’t the right ones. The thing is, they didn’t need to be.
You’re right. That’s the approach I’ve adopted for my thesis. I do find it easier in some respects to lower my standards with academic writing than I do with fiction. I’m not sure why.
Terrific post, Amanda. I also like to write complete gibberish. Words that don’t even make sense: “The yaks danced orange veil gopher rumba then beat the car dealer until everyone laughed their toenails off.”
It’d odd, but connects my fingers to the keyboard and makes me forget about my fear.