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Writer's Block: The Case of the Missing Nut
"I set myself 600 words a day as a minimum output, regardless of the weather, my state of mind, or if I'm sick or well. There must be 600 finished words — not almost right words." — Arthur Hailey
But what do you do when you can't even write a single word? And so it was with me the other day, when mental constipation sent me reeling out into the streets, searching for inspiration.
As I was passing by a bus stop, something hit me like a bolt. I turned around, as the sound of metal hit the pavement. A man, sitting alone on a bench at the bus stop, started laughing hysterically. As there was no one else around, I had wanted to reprimand him but stopped short, when I realized that he had no arms. Who could have hit me with that bolt? I wondered.
I squatted down to scrutinize the damned, bloody bolt. Being hit by a bolt is such a banal affair, hardly the stuff that would interest, much less, excite readers. But being hit by a nut would be a totally different kettle of fish altogether! And I thought: "If only I had been hit by a nut, instead!"
No problem! I could still tell everyone that I was hit by a nut, instead of a bolt. No one would know, anyway. But then I suddenly remembered Cygnetbrown leaving a comment in Billybuc's hub, "Writing Carries With It A Responsibility", citing Ernest Hemingway:
"All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know."
Yes, I must find that nut, or else forget about writing the hub. Going on all fours, I combed the area like a police detective at the scene of a murder crime. For a moment, I thought I was Sherlock Holmes. The man at the bus stop watched me in amusement. He reminded me of someone and all of a sudden, I began to wonder whether I was acting like Mr. Bean.
Bus Stop and Blind Man - Mr Bean
"What're you searching for?" he asked.
"A nut," I looked at him expectantly, hoping to find one.
"Look in the mirror."
"Which mirror?" I asked.
Any mirror? That would be a piece of cake! I was about to turn to leave, when I saw him kicking something toward me, saying: "And here's another."
Something hit my forehead. I bent down to see what it was and you won't believe it! It's a nut! And so here it is... the hub about the day when I was hit by a nut. Only one sentence is true. The rest are a figment of my imagination. But that's good enough, isn't it? After all, Hemingway said: "All you have to do is write ONE true sentence."
What is Writer's Block?
Jeff Bollow, author of "Writing FAST: How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed", says: "You can cure writer's block instantly with one simple sentence, and that is to give yourself permission to write garbage" He added: "The truth, however, is what you write probably won't be garbage but by giving yourself permission, you remove the block."
What actually is writer's block? As the name implies, something is blocking your creative flow. But what is that something? That something is the need for perfection... the need:
- to be good;
- to write well; or
- to choose the right idea, or story, or even words.
Basically, writer's block is the need to avoid looking stupid. So to remove the block, simply remove that need for perfection.
In other words, writer's block is an emotional issue — a psychological inhibition — that keeps you from being able to write. It is a symptom, not the cause. The cause, in most cases, is, as pointed out earlier, "performance anxiety", also known as the "fear of failure".
How to Cure Writer's Block
"Give yourself permission to write garbage and then strengthen what you've written afterwards. That's how to cure writer's block instantly every time. Try it now and let your ideas flow." — Jeff Bollow
Writer's Block Instant Cure
How to Write FAST
Here's Jeff Bollow's method to remove writer's block:
- Open your file, exercise book, or whatever you're going to write on.
- Think about what you wish you could write, if you weren't blocked.
- Set the timer for 3 minutes.
- Give yourself permission to write garbage.
- Go! Write as much as you can in 3 minutes.
If the words still don't flow instantly, go one step further and make yourself write garbage deliberately. That's all there is to it.
Now, the skeptic in you might probably say: "But I don't want to write garbage. I want to write quality." And as you start writing, you might even hear a little voice inside your head that says: "This is awful. That sentence is terrible. Why did you choose that idea? You're not good at this. Stop now! You're going to look foolish." That voice is the block. It is the critic voice.
Truth is you do need that voice. It actually has your best interests at heart. That voice is your last line of defense against looking foolish. The critic voice doesn't want you to be judged poorly by putting garbage out into the world. The actual problem, however, is that it is interrupting. It is jumping in, before its turn. The critic voice is trying to criticize something that doesn't even exist yet! And that doesn't protect you. That blocks you.
Writing, according to Bollow, is a 4-stage process and getting your idea onto the page is only one part of that whole process:
- Giving shape to your idea by turning it into a story, mapping out what you want to say;
- Getting your story onto the page;
- Editing to ensure that those words express your idea effectively; and
- Fine-tuning your readers' experience.
Writer's block happens when you blend the parts together. So, how do you silence your inner critic?
Here's how: You make a deal with it, telling it to give you a chance to voice any criticism it has LATER, before you show it to anyone. Trying to write and to edit at the same time is like pressing the car accelerator and the brake simultaneously (or alternately), as explained in my earlier hub, "The Easiest Way to Write an Article". You know that you can't drive a car any distance with this method, so what makes you think that writing is any different?
"Once your critic voice knows that you are not being reckless, it will go quiet and let your creativity flow", says Bollow. But you must give the voice its chance to be critical afterwards because if you don't, and you send a sloppy first draft of your writing out into the world, that critic voice is not going to trust you anymore and the block will return.