Why we get writers’ block

I’ve long thought that the problem of getting stuck while writing is inversely proportional to the looming deadline. As long as you’ve got plenty of time, the muse will flow – but as soon as you’re working to x-words completed per day, with a hard deadline a few weeks off, the muse decides it’s time to go on holiday to the Bahamas.

Yes, this IS my typewriter. What's it doing on the Wellington Writers Walk? Er - introductions...
Yes, this IS my typewriter. What’s it doing on the Wellington Writers Walk? Er – introductions…

The real cause of the problem is twofold. One is that we might be just flat out of ideas – blank mind translating easily into a blank page. The other is that we might have a great idea, or concept – but the translation of that into particular words is a bit elusive.

Both can be tackled, but they need different techniques. The no-inspiration problem might need something like a brisk walk out somewhere – new views, new experiences. Or it might work by sleeping on it, and ideas will arrive unheralded the next morning. It’s a well recognised issue for authors: Isaac Asimov used to fix it by doing something totally different, like going out to a movie. Arthur C. Clarke made it an art-form: he’d get the skeleton idea for a novel, flesh it out a little, then file it away. Later – sometimes months or years later – he’d return to the idea and at once have the story. The principle’s the same in both cases – the unconscious mind works away for you.

Translating the existing idea into words is a different issue. Words are imperfect vehicles for ideas, and they never quite convey the exact purity of what you have in mind. But again, doing something different for a short time can help. Or drawing pictures of the idea or scene. The other fix is the obvious one: write it anyway. It’ll be bad, but the fact is that a bad first draft is better than no first draft: you have something to work with, and that’s important.

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For other ways to defeat writers’ block and a method for getting writing – fast – check out my short quick-start manual How to get writing… fast. Available on Kindle.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016