Ah yes, the infamous writer’s block. For some authors it’s the bane of their lives, while others will swear blind that it doesn’t even exist. I place myself somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I believe it is a definite, genuine thing, but that ‘writer’s block’ isn’t perhaps the right term for it. I think of it more as a mental block, one that we can – and do – get in many different areas of our lives.
These mental blocks often occur when we’re stressed or when we don’t believe we can actually achieve what we want to achieve, and for me personally I’m reminded of being back in school and attempting to do my homework, especially when it was a subject I didn’t particularly like. If I got it into my head – before I’d even sat down to do the work – that I couldn’t do it, it would take me forever to get over that mental block and make myself believe I actually could do it. It’s like a literal block of wood in my brain, not something that stops my thoughts getting through altogether, but one that slows the process down considerably as I have to hack my way through it first. (Of course, a literal block of wood in your head would have far more devastating consequences, but let’s not worry about that right now!)
This mental blockage always reminds me of one of Derren Brown’s TV shows, where he made a woman change her mind on several different things (supposedly using NLP/tapping techniques), almost in an instant. For example, after having put the wrong colour in her head, he made her look at her car and tell him what colour it was. She swore blind it was black when really it was red, and it took just seconds for Derren to reprogramme her brain. Before he did this, he retuned her brain regarding another idea, this time with the homework she had yet to complete and her worries about not achieving good results at school. The fear had seemed like such a monumental thing to her that she’d been having difficulty even wrapping her head around everything she needed to do, absolutely convinced she would fail, but after a magical mental unblocking from Derren, she suddenly found the idea of achieving her academic goals to be no problem at all, and she couldn’t understand what she’d been so worried about. This illustrated just how changeable our minds can be – within seconds! – and that when we think we can’t do something, we just need to look at it from a different perspective. We just need to get rid of our mind blocks (and perhaps try some tapping!).
Starting a book is hard. No matter what kind of book it is – novel, autobiography, memoir, non-fiction – the beginning is always extremely difficult. There’s no getting around it. Some people love to plan every single second of their novel before they even write down the first word, while others jump in and wing it right to the very end, but either way, you’ve still got to get to the point where you can sit down and start writing, and that is never easy.
Like I said, personally, I find the start of a book incredibly hard to get into. I stare at a blank word document and it takes me right back to having to write essays at school – something I hated with a fiery passion, no matter what the topic. This carried on into university. I was sitting in a different room in a different house in a different city, but I was still staring at that same blank word document and wondering what on earth I was going to write. Deep down I knew I could do it – after all, I had to do it otherwise I’d fail Uni – but I had no idea how I was going to do it, and that made me freeze. It used to take me a ridiculously long time to start writing my essays, often leaving it to the last minute, and my two final year dissertations were no different. However, once I’d started and I realised I could actually do it, it wasn’t so bad.
Fortunately, now that I’ve tried so many different things, a blank word document no longer puts the fear of God into me. I look at that blank page and know that soon it will be filled with words. Maybe not brilliant words – not straight away, at least – but words, nonetheless. I know that I can write first and edit later, and that once I’ve got some words down, I’ll be able to really get into it. It’s nothing to freak out about. I’ve got this. You’ve got this.
I’ve changed the way I think about writer’s block, and as a result writing no longer feels like a monumental, unachievable task. We simply need to find out what works for us. I’ll be going into some more methods on how to beat down that mental block in a future article.
If you have any suggestions on how to conquer writer’s block, let us know!