Work Through Writers' Mental Block
Edited by Nerissa Avisado, Lynn, Eng, Doug Collins
For a lot of writers, writing can be their biggest foe, practically no different from a scorpion crawling up your leg or a mugger sticking a knife underneath your chin. For those who are struggling to settle down and write, this may be a gross exaggeration, but it boils down to the same type of feeling when facing the challenge of working through the mental issue of writer's block.
But why, why is this an issue for so many people? Even the most gifted writers are not spared from this. Somewhere, somehow, something happens along the way. Think as far back as you can remember - in preschool, for instance. Your penmanship and the way you formed words and letters were carefully scrutinized by your teachers and your parents. Either you were writing in the wrong direction, you weren't doing the "ideal" strokes, or you weren't doing cursive the right way. Then you went to high school and were told that your essays didn't make any sense at all. Similar experiences kept repeating themselves during college and beyond - with your thesis, your dissertations, and even the simplest forms of writing, such as writing a thank you note.
Clearly, this vexing problem involves not just practical, but emotional factors as well. So here are some tips you can use to gradually beat mental block
Recognize your fears.
Bring yourself back to grade school, high school, and college. Do you remember how it felt to write during these times? Was there ever a pleasant and enjoyable writing experience for you? If there were, take note of them. Then try to recall them every time you're about to write. Before it became difficult for you to write, do you remember one particular incident that really started it all and contributed to your writing block? Once you have zeroed in on this, ask yourself if that was really what happened, or was that merely your understanding or your interpretation of what happened? Every time you recall such experiences, tell yourself it's not your fault, and you can find the power to overcome your fears.
Flush out your critics.
Does your teacher in eighth grade have anything to do with your writing difficulties today? Was your mom really critical of your essays in high school? Once you learn to recognize who your enemies are, you will have the power to respond to all their criticisms. They may have taught you a thing or two in the past, but tell yourself you don't need them anymore and you can move forward on your own. If, however, your critic is directly related to your writing project, because he's your thesis adviser, for example, you can politely tell him that you appreciate his help but that he needs to allow you to finish your work before you hand it to him for review.
Begin writing your first sentence.
Make it something to look forward to because you're going to reward yourself afterwards. Otherwise, you'll go watch your favorite film, go shopping with your friends - anything to fight your resistance to really sit down and write. Psyche yourself up and try to condition yourself for a few moments before you begin. Listen to soothing music, tell yourself you're about to start writing shortly and there's absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Once you start doing this for a couple of days, see if you can still hear the same voices echoing in your head. Are they still there, or have they diminished? Do they sound congratulatory? Telling you that you finally did it, you've finally broken through the barriers through discipline and perseverance?
Take things one step at a time.
Break your writing projects/activities into small, bite-size pieces. Don't think about all your deadlines and all your assignments lined up because that can be totally overwhelming. Just work through one small part at a time - a chapter of the book you're trying to write, or if that is still too much, maybe just the first paragraph - for now. After you've reached this reasonable objective, pat yourself on the back and start thinking about how you can go through the next step.
Take on a routine.
For the next few days or so, schedule your writing activity for the same time every day. If it's taking you too long to start because of your mental block, allow yourself to still feel that way, but for no more than 10 minutes. If you keep putting it of till the 11th hour, it must never go beyond the one hour maximum time limit.
Make your writing experience a wonderful journey.
Imagine yourself hiking through the Himalayas, or climbing Mt Everest. The road may be long and challenging, but once you try and divide it into manageable segments, it becomes more bearable, and enjoyable even. Before you know it, time has gone by so quickly. Every time you sit down and begin your writing, you're coming closer and closer to achieving your goal. And the high and satisfaction you will feel afterward can be insatiable.
Stop agonizing over the finished product.
Unlike playing the violin, pumping iron for two hours, or a month-long meditation routine, don't worry yourself about the end results of your writing. The important thing is that you're going through the process naturally and comfortably. Focus on the process itself, and a good ending will show itself eventually.
Learn to say no.
No matter how tempting it is for you, learn to say no to family and friends who ask/demand/request for your presence during your writing time. Apologize that you can't be with them, but learn to be firm and say no, because this is your designated writing schedule. Once you stop making excuses for postponing your writing, things will get easier for you.
Jot down your expectations.
What do you think are the admirable characteristics of a good writer? Can they write easy as a breeze? Do they know exactly how to make their point the moment they come up with a sentence, or a paragraph? Are their writings compounded with analogies and metaphors? Do they never run out of inspiration? Are their lives more exciting than yours?
Destroy those myths.
Once you've completed that list and read it aloud, tear it to pieces. Why? Because a lot of those things simply aren't true. Now make a brand new list, one intended for yourself. Then again, read it aloud. Tell yourself that you are a writer. You may not be as quick as you want to be, you may not find it easy to start, your writing may not contain moving analogies ... but "I am a writer. Repeat this to yourself until you actually believe it.
Tips and Pitfalls to Avoid
The list above is not an instant remedy to overcome your block; rather it is merely a guideline that will hopefully help you weave through all your anxiety and confusion over writing. As a matter of fact, you can come up with your own list as days go by, and you can find new and exciting ways to help you go through your writing difficulties. In the meantime, here are some tips you can follow and pitfalls to avoid during the process:
Know that even "the greats" are not recognized by their contemporaries.
Einstein was four years old before he even began to speak, and didn't start reading until hen he was already seven. The music teacher of Beethoven told him that he was hopeless composer. And Walt Disney was sacked by his editor when he was working for a local newspaper because according to him, Disney had no good ideas. So don't get easily discouraged when things don't work out right away.
Love your barriers.
Everyone has barriers that keep them from moving forward. You put boundaries on your life experiences. You put a limit to what you allow yourself to be, to have, to do. Some people even have anxiety at the thought of being successful. Once you learn to love the barrier, accept and experience it, it starts to lose its power over you.
Be eager to learn.
Don't freak out at the thought of failure; instead, try to think of it as another opportunity to learn, to grow, to improve. Come to think of it, there's no other way to get better unless you fail.
So there you go. Hopefully these simple thoughts and tips can help you work through writer's block. Enjoy writing!
Recent edits by: Eng, Lynn, Nerissa Avisado