A representation of writer's block by Leonid Pasternak (1862 – 1945)
As a student of creative writing and journalist for over 25-year, I always wondered what causes writer’s block syndrome. In my own experience, working as a journalist with an organisation is very different from working as a freelancer. Being a freelance journalist there are moments when I feel stuck and find it very difficult to transfer an idea from mind to manuscript. I must say, it is a very stressful and frustrating experience. It feels like you have a complete map of your journey, but you cannot work out the physical location of the starting point. Why this happens? There are so many reasons and causes that just won’t let it happen. I lost my writing power when I left my country, and then my daughter’s birth and my father’s death in the same week added fuel to fire. My thoughts were completely paralysed, I was in a state of celebration on the birth of my first child and grief at the same time, as was my creative thinking. I realised stress was a major contributor to my creativity block. During those times my mind felt just like a fused bulb. I just couldn’t think straight or progress an idea to its completion. But my reading habits were my saviour. Initially, I was unable even to read. I remember staring at a book for ages, not reading even a single word. Then gradually I started reading craft books to find a way-out, but it took long ten years.
Keeping my own difficult experience in mind, I decided to help those writers who may have been suffering from the symptoms of writer’s block.
Talking to other experienced and less experienced writers may help to understand the complications they are facing in the journey of their writing careers.
For me, it’s always helpful to talk to real people from the relevant field to resolve any issues and for writers’ issues experts from the world of writing are the best source to learn from.
In the last ‘Writer’s Block’, I asked two writers from both sides of the spectrum; one with immense expertise and fame, J K Rowling, and the other, a rising star, Paula R. C Readman.
This is 'Practical Tips To Combat Writer's Block- Part II' and we are very lucky to have the multi-talented Rita Payne and the amazing Jim Bates, to discuss their own experiences as writers, and provide some insight into the topic along with many useful tips about how to show a wayout to this uninvited guest.
This is the second part of Writer’s Block and we are very lucky to have the multi-talented Rita Payne— A Journalist, Commentator and Media Consultant to talk about the topic. Rita Payne’s expertise are second to none; she is an institution within herself.
Read more about Rita Payne.
Azra Syed: Thank you very much Rita for agreeing to talk about writer’s block, I am very grateful for your precious time.
What is writer’s block and who might be affected by this syndrome?
Rita Payne: Writers block tends to affect an author who loses the ability to produce new work, cannot think of fresh ideas or feels unable to complete a book or document. Those suffering from the condition can draw comfort from the fact that many famous writers have been afflicted by this syndrome. Among them are F. Scott Fitzgerald, the cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Composers and singers like, Adele, have also struggled with the affliction. Many earlier writers and artists may have suffered writer’s block before this was recognised as a condition. Suffering from writer’s block can be traumatic for writers, artists, or anyone else affected. It can cause emotional instability and make professionals feel bereft of ideas, lose confidence and fear that they have permanently lost the ability to write or complete their work. Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, gave up writing novels after writing the world-famous book.
AS: As a senior writer and journalist with a vast range of expertise, do you think journalists also suffer from this condition?
RP: Writer's block is a condition I normally associate with authors working on a major work of fiction or historical significance. I do not think this will apply to most journalists covering news or writing feature articles since these reports are based on research, interviews and facts and the main challenge is to package this material in a clear, informative and readable form.
AS: What causes writer’s block?
RP: Writer's block may have several causes. A writer may run out of inspiration or be distracted by other events. Other blocks may be produced by difficulties in a writer’s personal life, physical illness or financial problems, an approaching deadline or fear of criticism.
AS: Are there any tactics to combat writer’s block?
RP: Experts studying writer’s block have recommended various strategies to deal with the condition. These include group discussions, brainstorming and list-making. Other proposed solutions are setting deadlines, mindfulness, meditation and reviewing working conditions. Psychologists say it is a treatable condition once the writer finds a way to remove anxiety and build confidence in themselves.
AS: Finally, what is your one giveaway tip?
RP: Mind Mapping is suggested as another potential solution to writer’s block. The technique involves writing a stream of consciousness on a horizontal piece of paper and connecting any similar or linked thoughts.
Jim Bates is writer from a small town about twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in many online and print publications. His collection of short stories Resilience is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Bridge House Publishing. All of his stories can be found on his blog.
Let’s see what Jim Bates thinks about writer’s block syndrome.
Jim Bates: - According to creative writing experts and researchers there are many causes of writer's block, but ‘fear’ is the most common one. Fear has many sub blockers or self-beliefs, for example, high standards which is basically the fear of failure, or Imposter Syndrome, which means the fear of rejection. Another is ‘perfectionism’, this is a self-belief which means my work is not good enough. Similarly there is ‘shortage of time’, the most common excuse writers have. If we look closely, we will see that majority of famous and successful writers wrote their books while travelling on a train, during their lunch breaks, or waking up earlier then their routine just to write. As the term writer’s block is used for expert writers, and not for someone with a lack of skills, all above examples of fears are for those writers who know how to write, but they aren’t able to produce or complete their ideas. Sometimes even expert writers also have such phases in their writing career when their productivity becomes sluggish. There are different fears and causes are behind this stagnant phase; it can be because of their personal, socio-economic, or political problems.
Whatever the cause of their fear is, it can be treated by taking small steps that might help on a larger scale. I normally go for a long walk and think about story ideas, this helps me to keep going and focus on writing in a different way.
Doing something to get your blood flowing, such as some form of exercise, also helps to relax and focus. Other steps such as playing a game, reading a book, spontaneous writing, listening to music, brewing some coffee, and creating a routine can be very useful. Many famous writers have daily habits to summon their muse.
Every writer suffers from writer's block at some point during their writing journey, and it is natural, so do I. When I get to this point, there is only one thing I do: I keep writing. I know it sounds odd, but for me the best thing to do is to be busy and I can't think of any better way to keep myself busy than writing. I simply go to my desk, sit down and start writing.
But what if can't write at all? My answer to this is you can. All you need to sit down and start writing, you can start a new story or work on an old draft. You can even write a haiku or a four-line poem if you like. The most important thing is pushing yourself into writing something, anything. If you love the creative aspect of writing stories, which I believe you do or you wouldn't be a writer, then sit down and start writing. It's a sure cure for writer's block.
I write a lot of 75-word stories that I submit to a place called ‘Paragraph Planet’. Not all of them are chosen, but each and every one of those 75-word stories have eventually become longer stories. I've written nearly a hundred of them and I can always go back to one to work on it if I'm stuck.
Writer's block is scary, and it scares most of us when it does inevitably happen, so accept it as being a part of the creative process and muscle through. Soon you will be back to creating the kinds of stories you've always wanted to write. Just remember, it always goes away, the key to success is to ‘keep writing.’
I hope these valuable tips are helpful in understanding what writer’s block is and how it can be beaten. The key takeaway is to stay positive and keep going, and soon you will overcome the wall blocking you from reaching your full potential. For more of the latest tips, tricks and guides by experts in the field, please subscribe to my blog.