There is much debate regarding what causes “writer’s block,” the dreaded bane of every creative individual. Whether from lack of ideas or from a creeping fear, there are varying tips out there as to how to approach and defeat this elusive menace. However, what is more encouraging than the wisdom of those who understand and overcome it every day? Here is a list of the best pieces of advice to remember when feeling suck, downtrodden, or struggling with your writing. From writers, for writers, these five quotes will help you defeat writer’s block.
1. “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
One would assume that as a prolific horror author- famous for classics such as IT, Carrie, and The Shining– King would be as fearless as his prose. However, he admits to possessing the same doubts and anxieties that all writers face in some form, though he doesn’t let it stop his ceaseless flow of written work. The above quote is one of power, reminding the reader that what we’re afraid of when facing the blank page is not the work itself, but our own perception of it. And once we take the first step, tackling our project becomes easier. Our greatest stumbling block is ourselves.
2. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
At first glance, this quote seems laughable. Sure, Hemingway, author of A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea… of course writing is easy for you. But, he has a point. Sometimes it’s helpful to take down a peg this thing that we’ve turned into a mountain in our minds. As writers, we care deeply about our work. It holds a deeper meaning for us, possibly, than for anyone who will read it. And when we place all our hopes and desires, even seemingly our self-worth, into the successful completion of a piece, that’s a lot of pressure. Simplifying the art can be helpful. All it is, in fact, is words on a page. That’s not so scary.
3. “It is fantasy to think that successful writers do not have these bored, defeated hours. These hours of deep insecurity when one feels as small and jumpy as a water bug.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird; Some Instructions on Writing and Life
As writers, many of us are deep-feeling, cerebral types. We doubt, we question, and we analyze. It’s good to see this simple truth laid bare: even the greats go through writer’s block and feelings of inadequacy. Of course, we will idolize our favorite writers. And yes, we will be humbled and inspired by their genius. But, we must remember that they are not a class of human above ourselves. All that they’ve achieved, they’ve earned through hard work, and so can we. We are all in this together, and no good ever comes from harsh comparison.
4. “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
It’s easy to get caught up in writing for the wrong reasons. We can forget why we started to write in the first place. Was it for money, fame, or to measure our value? No. We write for the truth found in this succinct phrase by Roosevelt. We write because somehow it fills an unseen part of ourselves with wholeness and meaning. A lacking in our soul, our heart, is replenished when we give ourselves over to words, and the worlds they create or reveal. It’s not wrong to earn a living from writing, or for financial security to be one of the reasons you write, but when it becomes our first priority- if we forget the joy and thrill of creative effort- sitting down to write becomes a chore.
5. “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
It’s okay to take a break. Some claim that the only way to push through writer’s block is exactly that: pushing through. But force isn’t always the best method for growth. If we’re writing about the world but not living in it, eventually our well of inspired energy will run dry. This is why it’s important to step away from our writing space and refuel for our projects through lived experience. Sometimes, all it takes to grasp onto the next idea is to let go. Take a breath and take a moment for yourself. Make space in your mind and in daily life for these ideas, and then let them come.