Writing Through an Emotional Block

What writers do is hard. We weave stories out of our brains, our hearts and the bits of life we've gathered along our respective journeys. If we're doing it properly, we're also bleeding a little; showing you what we love, what we hate, who we are. And when we're done, we cast our creations out into the world, where they more often than not are rejected, over and over again, sometimes never finding a home outside our own self-publishing efforts.

It's enough to wreck you a bit.

There's a great Terry Pratchett quote about writer's block: “There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.” Well, begging your pardon, Sir Pratchett (may you rest in peace), but I don't know about that. I think a good half of what we call writer's block is self-doubt, which comes out of fear, which comes out of all the junk I wrote about above.

So what to do about it? I don't have a fool-proof formula, but I've got some ideas. Maybe they'll work for you. Here goes.

1. Acknowledge the block.

Our culture teaches us not to be vulnerable, even to ourselves. We're supposed to keep smiling and soldier on, and yeah, there's a place for that. But when you're gummed up and and can't write, you need to do something else first.

You need to sit with your darkness a bit. You need to reach out, feel its contours, name the demons that live inside it (The demon called I Cannot Write, his sister named I Will Never Publish, their mother commonly known as I Have Nothing Important to Say) and acknowledge they exist. Say their names out loud. They hate that, because they know what we know, that a thing named is a thing owned.

2. Offer yourself some compassion.

The Buddha said, “You, yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” And you do. Holy Gods, do you ever. So give yourself some loving kindness. Take a day off. Go for a walk. Indulge in a pound of that gorgeous coffee at the health food store and brew up a nice, black pot of it. Read that book you keep waiting to start. Whatever it takes. Love yourself.

While you're at it, acknowledge that what you're doing is hard, whether anyone else sees it or not. You see it. That's enough.

And might I suggest a bit of mindfulness meditation while you're on this step? Works wonders. Here's a guide: Mindfulness Meditation: A Simple How-To & Guided Practice

3. See the good.

If there weren't a good reason to do what you're doing, you wouldn't be doing it, right? So now that you've named your demons, had some coffee and maybe meditated a bit, write down the reasons you love to write. Free associate. Build a mind map. Make lists.

Now make a list of the most beautiful things you've ever written. Go dig that shit up. All the lovely phrases, all the compelling characters, all the stunning scenes. Get them out, surround yourself with them, and fall in love with your work again for its own sake.

Last, and definitely least, make a list of all the kind things anyone else has ever said about your writing. High school teacher loved a poem you wrote? Write it down. Got a few publication credits to your name? Write them down. Had a good review? Write it down. Got nothing in this category? That just means you've got work to do yet. After all, you've already seen how gorgeous your writing is, right?

4. Set a reasonable goal.

Most of the published writers I know don't write eleventy billion words a day. Some write 250 a day. Some write 3000 a week. But they all set writing goals and endeavor to achieve them. You should too. So set a word count goal or a story goal or some such. Make it reasonable. Don't try to write a novel in a weekend.

Also, make it an ongoing goal. Don't just tell yourself you're going to finish the story you're writing now, because once its done, you'll want to keep your momentum up. Tell yourself you're going to finish X stories per month, or X novels per year, or X words per day or per week.

Then try hard to stick to it.

5. Remember that the only way out is through.

You can't dissolve an emotional block by sitting on it and doing nothing. You can't publish by not writing. You have to push through the hard thing and keep putting words on the page if you want to succeed (that's the soldiering on part). No, you don't get any guarantees. Neither do any of us. Doesn't that suck?

Write anyway. Finish anyway. Submit anyway. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Never, never, never give up. Say it with me. "Never, never, never give up." Neil Gaiman is right. Only you can tell your stories. Please don't deprive us of them. We need your words. We all need your words, and only you can give them to us.

Gods speed your work into print.