© Grant Snider, incidentalcomics.com

© Grant Snider, incidentalcomics.com

by Carla Dominguez 

All writers have likely experienced this dreaded feeling: You’re reaching deep down into the creativity file of your brain, but you can’t find anything.

This feeling doesn’t have an expiration date, and sometimes the days of not being able to write never ends. There is a lot of discourse in the world of writing on how to get over this feeling – lists upon lists of ideas – but here is an interesting school of thought on how to take the problem head on: Writer’s block doesn’t exist. It’s something that writers made up.

Kyle Seargant puts it bluntly. “Writer’s Block is an excuse. Admit it. You use the term when you’d rather be doing something else.” The idea is that being a writer means that you have to, well, write. A way to approach that feeling of not knowing how to continue your writing is to write anyway. Even if it’s not the best writing, or even if it’s not the same project, setting a daily goal to fulfill your job as a writer might be a good habit to form.

This idea isn’t completely unpopular:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. If I can’t write, I go out and live. Then, if I’m a writer, I’ll find something to write.” says Peter Arpesella, author of Good Like This. 

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write,” says Terry Pratchett, author of The Color of Magic.

For some, it might be a tough idea to accept, but there is truth to this notion. Yet that doesn’t mean that the feeling usually associated with writer’s block doesn’t exist. It just means that you’re stuck and that the writing process is no longer easy and fun.  Natalie Zina Walschots describes her experience: “Writing felt nearly impossible. Even getting a few words down felt like a colossal physical effort, as though each word was a weight that took a significant amount of my strength to wrestle into place. By the end of each day, my brain was shaking like an overused muscle and I had pitifully few completed pieces to show for it. Every day, I felt defeated.” Walschots believes that referring to this feeling as “block” is inaccurate. Nothing is really being blocked, it’s just difficult to get the words out, something closer to wrangling oiled balloons in the pool. It’s frustrating and it’s annoying, but it’s not writer’s block.

Yeah Write breaks it down. When writers are in an “inspired state” is when you get hit in the head with an idea and you run to the nearest laptop/notebook/napkin to write it down and you don’t stop until it’s completed – a Mozart state of mind. The “hacking away” state happens more often: You have an idea, you write a few paragraphs, page, or chapters, and then run out of steam. This is often where we stop, we throw our hands up, and give up on the story forever. “But if you are a disciplined,” Yeah Write argues, “prolific, successful writer, you’re going to work at that story anyway, because you know that it’s better to have at least something on the page that you can go back and edit later.” The idea of writer’s block might be writers deciding that they don’t want to deal with the tedious process of “hacking away.” Getting to the point where you can stand that process is difficult, but something that might help you become a better writer.

So what should you do, as a writer, to make yourself better at the tedious process of hacking away? Elizabeth Gilbert—of Eat, Pray, Love and others—sums up how to deal with the problem of oily watermelons in a pool or staring at a blank Word document with anguish. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be.”

Here are some ways to “hack away” at your writing:

  • Take a break by writing something else. Put the project you’re working on aside for the day but don’t stop writing. Write something else. Write some nonsensical. Write anything.
  • Read. If you’re feeling like you need some extra inspiration, get it from the best. Take a break from writing by reading good writing and getting some of that inspiration back.
  • Whatever you do, don’t fall into the avoidance pit. Don’t let yourself put aside the act of writing for too long.

It may take a few minutes or a few days or, like me, a few weeks, but giving up and treating it like a virus gets you nowhere.