Writer's Block and How to Beat It
Plus: Brand new course klaxon, ask Tanya Shadrick, The Dawn Chorus for June
I’m not sleeping well at the minute. It is a challenge to juggle paid work, volunteer work in the form of Spelt and the writing of a book and still respect my own need for rest and recuperation. If I’m over tired I tend to get over anxious, comparing myself to every other writer on Twitter and wondering why I aren’t able to juggle everything as seamlessly as they do. I second guess what people reading my work think about it, about me, and I get stuck, staring at the blank page, waiting for someone to tell me I’m good enough to take my place at the table with the rest of the writers and that I can continue writing. This week I had a strange dream. I dreamt I was back working at my old job, as a microbiologist in the local hospital. I won’t go into all the things that happened that caused me to leave that job; a lot of it was to do with the hard and complex grief of losing my daughter and then the gruelling IVFs and the miscarriages, some of it was to do with just not fitting in, and of being aware that I was never able to fit in anywhere, and that to fit in I had to constantly pretend to be a type of person that I just wasn’t, and that that in itself was exhausting. I dreamt I had to phone in sick to work, but had to pretend I was physically sick because I knew they wouldn’t accept crushing anxiety and not being able to get out of bed as a reason to not go to work, or rather they’d not be able to fully understand what was happening and would judge me on it. It is not far away from what actually happened in that job. Oh, god, the anxiety of the phone call. I have terrible phone phobia which gets worse when I am more anxious and the idea of lying made me more anxious. The anxiety dream was really doubling down with this one. I can feel the dream anxiety sitting in my stomach like a rock now, as I write this. I woke up and for a few seconds was still in that panic, and then I realised that I am self employed, that I work for myself, and have done for about seven years, that I don’t have to navigate that world anymore. My god, the relief. There are many downfalls to being self employed, it’s a whole other form of anxiety: no regular pay, no sick pay, rarely do I get days off, and my pay packet is much reduced. But it’s worth it for the better mental health.
I’m writing this from my little ex council house, my little pebble-dashed paradise, in the room that I set aside for myself as a gesture of belief in myself. I’m listening to the birds in the garden and the sheep in the next-door field and the sound somewhere (already?) of a lawn mower and the sound of people getting into their cars and heading to work. I am relaxed. As far as ambitions go, this is where I am and what I want. I want to make enough money to do the thing that I love and the thing that I think I’m good at. The relief knowing that this is entirely in my own hands is wonderful. And yet there is still an element of writer’s block going on in my little peaceful office.
This week I finished a block of mentoring in which myself and the mentee worked together to look at what she wanted out of poetry, out of being a poet and looked at how to get to that place. There is something that happens to poets in particular, I think, in that they have an idea of what they ‘should’ be and forget to ask themselves what they ‘want’ to be. It is perfectly acceptable to not want to dominate the poetic scene, to not want to climb over people to get to the top. We forget that joy does not always come from conquering, it often just comes from existing in a contented manner.
It would be better if we redefined ‘writer’s block’ as ‘writer’s anxiety’, people might then come to it with a better understanding of where it comes from. Like the idea of inspiration being something like a bolt of lighting, we still think of ‘writer’s block’ as something that strikes out of nowhere. Addressing it as something that needs to be warded off with tricks and spells doesn’t quite sit right with me. Yes, regular routine, keeping the creative muscle toned, writing something, anything, consistently works well, but perhaps that only addresses the symptoms and not the cause.
I feel that ‘writer’s block’ is often tied up with ‘lacking inspiration’ and again, these two ideals of lightning bolt strikes don’t really seem truthful or authentic to me. Inspiration, for me, and I guess it simply isn’t the same with everyone (which is what makes this an art form and not a science) is about seeking experience over inspiration. There is a negative cycle attached to waiting for inspiration to strike.
Of course this is simplified. People are complex; writing is a complex art form, there is no one size fit all approach.
What else can you do to beat writer’s block?
There is no cure, only a kind of self evaluation. But short term, some of these tips might be helpful:
Give yourself a break. Literally, give your brain a rest, go and read a book, go for a walk, exist outside of the writing problem for a while.
Evaluate what you want from the experience - short term and long term - and check yourself to see if you are striving for what you ‘should’ be rather than what will make you happy.
Be kind to yourself. The voice in your head that tells you how sh*t you are isn’t doing you or your writing any favours.
Value and validate your voice as a writer. Your voice is as valid as anyone else’s.
Don’t make excuses. Procrastination is a key symptom of lack of confidence. How do you beat it? The only answer is to just do it, just write, just write badly, and allow yourself to write badly, accept that you will write badly, and you will move through it.
Like I say, writer anxiety is a complex and multifaceted problem, an individual problem. But being aware of that and thinking about that and where it might stem from will always be far more beneficial than simply treating the symptoms. Let me know how wrier anxiety manifests for you!
New Course Klaxon
My next writing challenge is now live for bookings.
July Writing Challenge: Following the Breadcrumbs
Writing and re-writing classic fairy tales.
Four-week email-based writing challenge with tiered pricing.
Starts Monday 3rd July 2023
In this four-week writing challenge we’ll take a look at classic fairy tales with a contemporary eye. We’ll be looking at the historic facts behind fairy tales, placing well known fairy tales into contemporary settings, giving voice to the lesser-known fairy tale characters and exploring your own, personal fairy tales. Are you the wicked witch or the hard done by Cinderella? What happens to the Sleeping Beauty fairy story when we place it into the Me-Too era? What is the real story behind the Pied Piper?
To see more details and to book your place, click this button.
The Dawn Chorus returns in June!
Just £10 (plus eventbrite fees) for a week of gentle accountability with me in June. Details here.
Book Club News
Our next book chat is this Sunday 14th May. Come and chat with me about Tanya Shadrick’s brilliant memoir - The Cure for Sleep. Both book chat and author event details here
And last but not least - send me your questions for Tanya, either reply to this thread or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time!
Great post! I am all for writing badly! Too often we get hung up on judging ourselves and our work before we begin. I agree with you, that worrying about what we should be, instead of what we want to be, about what we should be writing, what everyone else is writing, instead of enjoying our own work, is the cause of so much anxiety and pain for writers. It takes the joy away from us. It should not be about conquering the writing world, but about finding the right path for us. We all have a voice that deserves to be heard.