Writer’s Block

I have seen and heard many people ask how they can get rid of writer’s block. Anyone who offers a definitive answer to that question is, in my opinion, the equivalent of a snake oil salesman, someone selling you a product to cure your ills that doesn’t work.

Harsh? Perhaps. Are there some specific conditions that contribute to writer’s block? Certainly. And it is a smattering of these issues that I want to troubleshoot.

Imagine trying to draw water from a barren well. Tug on the rope, pull up the bucket, spend a good amount of energy, and all you have after all that effort is an empty bucket. This is like trying to write about a subject you have not sought to understand, or you have no experience of. In the end, the page is like an empty bucket, as you have had nothing to draw on. Begin from a place of experience, of knowledge. What we know, experience, remember, what has in some way become part of us – that is our resource as writers. To illustrate: I can write about what I witnessed watching my wife’s experience bringing each of our children into the world. I can comment on her courage, her dignity, her sense of humour at the most trying of times. I can describe my emotions at witnessing the birth of my children, cutting their umbilical cords, holding them in my arms for the first time, but…I can never write about what it’s like to give birth. That experience, that journey, only a woman can communicate from experience. I have to be able to distinguish what I imagine it is like for my wife to give birth and the personal experience of the same. Making this distinction clearly and honestly even if you’re preparing to write fantasy, is a very important component of your work. Sometimes the experience that is truly your own doesn’t come that easily, but if you don’t seek it, your writing may falter.

Another factor that contributes to writer’s block is clutter. A cluttered room, a cluttered mind, it doesn’t matter. To reach the ether, to connect to that creative space, you must unclutter you room, your mind –– your life. I’ve even heard it said that sitting in front of a blank wall and meditating, without distraction – focused on calming your mind, caging the monkey mind, which jumps here and there, filling your head with distracting thoughts – is the best way to ready yourself for work. I think freedom from distracting clutter comes with the discipline of work at your craft every day and making it part of your regimen. You don’t have to write for hours every day. Fifteen minutes of disciplined attention is better than an hour of unfocused diversion.

Some issues are technical and call for helpful instruction. Are you well read? Do you have an extensive vocabulary? Do you understand how to form a sentence, plot your story, develop your characters, build tension, create conflict, utilize space or adjust the rhythm of your story, craft believable dialogue? If you answered no to any of the questions I just posed, perhaps your first step is to find a teacher who can fill in the gaps in your learning and prepare you for the creative field in which you so dearly wish to participate. The key is to focus on your vulnerabilities and address them. If you’re creatively inflexible, for example, proper stretching – finding solutions to writing problems – will help.

Worrying about other people’s opinions. Will people like it? What will the critics say? If you have something you want to offer, stick to you guns and finish your work. No one understood Charlie Parker or John Coltrane at first. Many criticized what both of these brilliant musicians were trying to do. Initially, the work of Hemmingway, Orwell, Nabokov, King, Seuss, Golding, Joyce, among others, was rejected. No one person knows everything about anything. You can’t know everything. You can’t please everyone. Your experience is limited by who you are. But you can certainly try to get pleasure out of clearing your mind, digging in and…writing.


Kaja Blackley is the author of Maggie MacCormack and the Witches’ Wheel now on sale now: maggiemaccormack.com