Four causes of writer’s block and how to conquer them

Being hit by the so-called “writer’s block” is the worst. It tends to paralyze my writing fingers, followed by the fear that I may not be able to craft words anymore. Not ever.

I realized that writing has unpredictable rhythms – muse comes and leaves as it pleases while the block often falls like a surprise, without first giving hints through sounds or clouds. But, I realized that it is these undulations and fluctuations that make music in a writer’s life. This is what betters the writer.

In my countless attempts to break writer’s block, I learned more about it – particularly its causes. And the more I discovered its roots, the more I felt capable to pull the block out from my life. These four roots may or may not resonate with you, reader, but if any of them does, I’m pretty sure it would also help you out.

  1. Emptiness

    I couldn’t stop nodding when I read “it’s not writer’s block, it’s emptiness” in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She said something like if a writer cannot say something, it’s probably because she’s not truly living. The writing desk is merely the work area, where words are spelled and strung together to convey a message. I cannot sit there and expect to produce something beautiful without a bagful of words – words that are, more than conjured, found in all things, in every tiny thing, if I’d just really take it all in. By taking it all in, I mean – and Anne Lamott too, as I understood – embracing it all as part of life. And once a writer is filled with heaped bits of life’s complex beauty, she will surely have something to say.
  2. Unacknowledged Truth

    I always tell my writing students that beautiful words come from the place of truth. But I’d like to add to that: meaning comes when you acknowledge the truth. I noticed that I find it doubly hard to write when there’s some truth I intentionally or unintentionally ignore. Often, this sort of truth is horrible, excruciating, or just sheer ugly fact about myself. In times when I forget to tackle with this in my journal, I repel the blank page. I feel that putting the bad truth into writing makes it official, and I don’t want darkness to taint the light that I nurse especially that I always write to be read. But, I can’t forever be a prisoner of my own bars. What resolved this were (1) free writing (in my journal), (2) my fear that my words might come out stilted, and (3) love for my readers. When I have no masks on, my words flow better, meanings sprout from everywhere, and God’s grace seeps between the words.
  3. Perfectionism.

    The day I realized that I am not as good as or better than more than half of the writers in the world, I told myself that words are just tools. What made these writers remarkable or legendary is probably this: they found their message first then they found the right words to express it. I don’t have to force a literary voice or use high falutin words into my writing if they won’t effectively deliver my “meaning” to my readers. What I need to work on is not how to make my writing style sound this way or that way, but how to make my message clearer and more impactful (if such word exists) for my readers. I also sussed out that resolving perfectionism is about sorting out priorities. My words don’t need me to look at myself, they only need me to love my readers. Any art crafted with love makes a masterpiece, anyway.
  4. Aimlessness

    I believe that every person has many stories to tell. But, what makes one story feel writable above all others is its potential to make a difference. And that potential has to be seen, felt, and appreciated by the writer. I keep a long list of stories in my computer’s file, and I once started writing some of them – 30, 50, 80, 100 pages – then shelved them all without closure. Many times, I reviewed my intentions for writing a story and realized that I didn’t really believe in its potential. Often, I wrote for joy-in-the-art’s sake and even that didn’t suffice for me. My belief in a story’s purpose is my fire, my direction, that bullseye in the target ring. Without any aim, there will not be enough words. To resolve this, I sought for the help of someone who has gone this way before – my writing mentor. Then I consulted the One who holds the map – God, the Giver of each story’s purpose.

Writer’s block is inevitable, perhaps a terrible part of every writer’s life. But, I’m starting to think that we should be thankful for it. Writer’s block is like an inner siren that shuts words off until you resolve what’s wrong. It teaches you to be a better writer – living, loving, and true. It’s your conscience, writer. It’s an inner battle that you can win. Listen to it.

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