Writer’s Fatigue

Dictionary.com defines writer’s block as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.” Wikipedia defines it as “a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years,” and goes on to site examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) to Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts cartoons).
Causes of writer’s block include:
  • the work itself does not work or is not conducive to being written
  • the pairing of writer and work is not a productive one
  • distractions (from immediate to long-term)
  • poor work environment
  • physical illness
  • mental illness
  • external stress or change
  • internal stress, ie. pressure, fear of failure, defeat
  • previous work’s reception (good or bad)

And now that I’ve said all that, I want to tell you what I inevitably say when someone asks me about writer’s block.

“I don’t believe in it.”

But now that I see that it has a definition, causes, and even studies, I accept that I’m going to have to re-word that for you. So here goes.

“I don’t like the concept of ‘writer’s block.’ I like to call it writer’s fatigue. Because I believe that there are roads around the issues associated with so-called writer’s block, and that most of the time those roads are quite passable (simple, accessible, and short).” I also believe that writer’s block has become a scapegoat, a handy excuse, a woe is me. No more!

What I really don’t believe in is this mystical idea that somehow the muse comes and goes and that we as writers have to sit around waiting for it and wringing our hands. Perhaps inspiration does come and go, but not only can we do things to encourage our muse (and likewise, discourage it), we can also write without it. What?!? Are you nuts?!? No, I assure you I’m not-more-than-the-average. I just believe that dealing with writer’s fatigue involves the qualities that being successful in any endeavor does: hard work, determination, commitment, perseverance, practice, self-control, and a dash of talent.

Let’s think of our solution to writer’s fatigue in two veins. The first is learning how to process what is happening to you (or me). The second is learning how to explore and generate ideas.

When you think you are suffering from writer’s block, it would be a good thing to take a look at a list of the causes, like the one above. Make a chart and write any causes you think apply to you in the left column. Be specific. (Don’t write “distractions,” write “Facebook” or “video games.” Don’t write “external stress.” Write “divorce.”) Then label some other columns, like “details,” “possible solutions,” and “actions to take.” I would encourage you to seek advice from trusted friends and possibly also to seek professional help (from an organizer to a job coach, from a self-help book to a psychiatrist to a 12-step program). You are going to have to be open and honest, even if the truth is painful. Then you’re going to have to be realistic and thorough with your solutions. Now, follow through.

Deal with it. And I don’t mean the conventional, like, “Deal with it, okay?” I don’t want you to just deal with anything, I want you to deal with it! To take that bull by the horns. To stand up and be a man or a woman. To put one foot in front of the other all the way up that mountain. And never take writer’s block laying down!

But when all that’s said and done, I think one of the simplest ways to deal with all this onslaught of writer’s block is to open ourselves up to just writing. I see this all the time when I discuss journaling with other people (including my elementary-age son). Journaling intimidates the heck out of normal people the way writer’s block scares the poo out of us writers. Why? Often because we have this convoluted, collective idea that thinking of things to write about is hard. It’s not! Thinking of Shakespeare-worthy stuff to write about is hard. But actually writing something down is almost as easy as thinking. I encourage journalers to grasp at whatever is in front of them. What do you like? What would you like to complain about? What did you do today? What are you doing later? What is sitting on the table in front of you? What’s in your pocket? What’s your favorite whatever? Use idea journals, idea books, idea websites. Have a chat with someone about what you’re writing and where you’re stuck. Go for a walk. Take a shower. Drive a car. Take a writing class or go back to school. Read writing magazines and books which specifically teach you how to generate ideas and also how to work with the ones you already have.

The world will never run out of things for each of us to write about. The problem is getting ourselves to let go. We have to learn to let go of the idea that the next sentence we write will be part of the final product. It will be part of something–but that something may only be the process, the journey. Or maybe it will become part of the final product once it is tamed and molded. The point is to get something on the page. You can write junk (you’d be surprised), just keep writing, and do it worry-free.

So here are our thoughts when we face writer’s fatigue:

  • Process the causes and their solutions
  • Learn how to explore your current ideas and generate new ones
  • Embrace the transient nature of your next sentence, therefore removing the great pressure

After all, you’re blockage is not insurmountable, it just needs navigating.

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