Getting Over Writers’ Block

Writers’ block is either a complete fabrication or the most devastating thing that can happen to you, depending on the writer you’re talking to. Either way, when it hits, you notice. It starts off so well—you’re writing and everything is fine, the characters are strong, the plot is compelling, the scenes are unfolding before your eyes, and the words just flow. Then, out of nowhere, everything just stops.

You stare at a blank page, waiting for the words to come, but nothing does. You will yourself to write but you can’t.

Maybe you try a few sentences but they just don’t fit. Perhaps you delete them and start again. After a while, you stop trying. You just do nothing.

Then what?

Writing is not a sprint. It is not a marathon. Writing is climbing a mountain. At the start, the going is relatively easy. You can see a little way ahead, you have the first few scenes planned out, and your route is clear. The weather is fair and you’ve got all your gear, mentally speaking, so you can move forward without too much worry. When the terrain starts to incline, when the angle of your climb gets steeper, that’s when it gets trickier. You can’t see so far ahead—whether you’ve plotted your path in advance, which some writers do, or you are making it up as you go along, as others prefer—and you’re in the lower clouds. The mountain is still there, but the way to the peak is no longer visible. Your next step is unclear and you will either move up or fall into the abyss, yet you cannot take the step as you can’t see where to place your feet. You’re afraid.

Once you have passed the lower clouds, you might—for a short while—have a clear run. Then again, you might not. The clouds could go on, never giving you that element of foresight. Or, you could get a momentary break and then be stuck in another layer of cloud, then more still. All this time the air is getting thinner and the ground steeper and you will be scaling a sheer vertical to reach the peak.

It’s alright to be scared. That space before you is either a cliff or a void, but you need to keep going regardless. You have to move past the fear.

Unlike climbers, writers will not die from taking a misstep, or a wrong turn, or slip. Writers don’t perish from a bad decision; instead they improve. Writing it wrong means next time you will write it right, and by next time I mean the next draft. Writers’ block tends to only occur on first drafts of stories, and there is a reason for that: it is the first time you have to scale this mountain.

The first time a climber tackles a peak is a test of their physical endurance; the first draft is a test of your mental prowess. After the struggles and dead ends and falters and frustration and battling and pain and self-loathing you will get to the summit, and when you reach the peak you get to admire the view: I did this, I got here, this is my achievement. Then you take a little while to get back down, have a rest at base-camp, and start the whole climb all over again. The second draft is less difficult than the first as you have already climbed your mountain, you have a much clearer idea of where you are going, and you’ve already been there. The third is easier still, and the fourth even more so. By the tenth, you are just fine-tuning your route to avoid slight trips, rather than stumbling blindly in the dark.

If the clouds are getting thicker, keep writing. Take that step. Who cares if the next sentence or paragraph or scene or chapter is not your best? There’s always the next draft. You can sort that bit of the journey out, as when you look back the view is much clearer. Just keep climbing. Keep moving. Keep writing.

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Writings