Updated: Oct 23, 2020
If you’ve ever written a school paper, a business email, a book, or even a blog, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded blinking cursor. That thin vertical line that mocks you with unspoken discouragement. Perhaps you’ve cursed said line, perhaps you’ve given it your middle finger, or perhaps you’ve tossed up your hands and said, “I quit.”
Writer’s block attacks when you least expect it. For example, let’s take Joe, a young author who plans on finishing his debut novel. He’s excited to type those final words of the last chapter. He’s well-rested, caffeine infused, and pumped to cross the literary finish line. He’s even ready to tell his new followers on Instagram, “I just finished writing my first book.”
Joe cracks his knuckles, takes a deep breath, opens his Google document, and lets his fingers find their happy place on the keyboard. He grins. I’m about to kick some literary ass. Pulitzer Prize here I come. His grin widens. The confidence in his cup runneth over, but suddenly the blinking cursor sucks it dry. Baffled, he shakes his head. This can’t be. I was ready to finish my book today. I’m on a deadline to get this to my beta readers.
One hand falls off the keyboard and into his lap, while the other moves to his bearded chin. He scratches the wiry hairs and squints, wondering if the blinking cursor will vanish if he stares at it long enough. Five minutes tick away, then ten, and twenty. Joe hasn’t written a single word. He lets out an audible sigh. The reality of his bleak situation hits him—hard. The young man leans back in his chair and crosses his arms. He can’t do anything but stare at that damned cursor. The doubt takes control of his thoughts. What am I trying to say? Why can’t I string together a complete sentence? He shifts his weight on the vinyl chair. Now the negativity feeds on his anxieties. Why did I give myself such a tight deadline? I should have known better than to go out last night. I could have finished this book by now. Joe scrolls through his manuscript, searching the pages for encouragement. He doesn’t find it. This book needs a lot of work. Maybe I should call my beta readers and tell them I won’t have it finished in time. Hell, maybe I should quit while I’m ahead. What about my followers on Instagram? I told everyone I would finish this book today. He swipes a finger under the collar of his shirt. Is it hot in here?
Perhaps Joe’s experience with writer’s block is over dramatized, but I did that for a reason. I wanted to show you how easily a downward spiral can occur once negative thoughts sneak into your mind. The term writer’s block frightens authors. I’m here to reassure you it’s an easy hurtle to clear.
Most authors feel that writer’s block results from a problem with the plot, characters, or dialogue of a story. I disagree. What if you’re a high school student writing a paper on the life of Abraham Lincoln? What if you’re a business professional writing an email to your boss? Author or not, sometimes the words don’t flow. Sometimes we struggle to compose a simple sentence.
I believe writer’s block is an emotional block. Something is distracting you from telling your story. Did you have an argument with your spouse? Are you still holding a grudge because your friend never answered your text? Perhaps you’re still pissed at the woman who cut you off in traffic.
As humans, we hold grievances toward others. As humans, we brush off what the world calls mild irritants. Are your kids driving you crazy? Does the post keep losing your Amazon packages? Does your spouse forget to pick up his/her shoes? Over time, these irritants will build without us knowing.
Now let’s get back to Joe. The man wanted to finish his book when he sat down at his computer, but it never happened because Joe didn’t realize that the previous night's argument with his girlfriend, Carla, had clouded his creativity. The couple had discussed sharing an apartment. Carla longed to live with the love of her life, but Joe wasn’t ready to take the next step. On the surface, the young author appeared prepared to finish his book, but underneath the eager layer of productivity bubbled a deep resentment toward his girlfriend.
After suffering through countless hours of writer’s block, I found a method that works. And it does, every time. As soon as that damned blinking cursor challenges you to a staring contest, walk away. Forcing your fingers to do the work will result in cringe-worthy writing. Don’t do it. You’ll be wasting your time. Instead, take a walk around the house, or the office. Or better yet, take a stroll outside. Next, I want you to grab a journal or open a new document on your computer and write about the emotions you are experiencing. Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “How can I write if I have writer’s block?” Here’s a secret. You’re not writing a paper, a book, or composing an email to your boss. You’re doing a stream-of-consciousness exercise to clear the clutter from your mind. Give yourself fifteen minutes to ask yourself a few questions. Why am I feeling so disconnected? How is my family life? Am I holding a grievance toward anyone? It will surprise you at how quickly the answer reveals itself.
Now, where did we leave Joe? Ah yes, we left him defeated, at his computer. Tired of losing the battle, the young man stands and stretches his arms. He then wanders around his apartment, noting the ample living space. Joe grabs a notepad off the countertop and plucks the pen from behind his ear. He scribbles random thoughts about his morning. Mylo is out of food. I should make a stop by PetSmart. Maybe I’ll grab lunch before. I could call Carla.
And that’s when the short sentences transform into a deeper and more personal conversation. Why did she get so pissed last night? I told her this apartment was too small for us both. His cheeks puff. Liar. You just don’t want her expecting a ring anytime soon. But she puts up with your shit, and you do love her. Maybe we should revisit the conversation. Joe sends a quick text to his girlfriend, asking her to lunch. She agrees to meet him later that afternoon. Joe jots down a few more thoughts before heading back to his desk. The blinking cursor vanishes as his fingers move over the keyboard. He finishes the last chapter in record time.
Jotting down your emotions is a powerful tool. Joe wasn’t aware that the argument with his girlfriend had caused his writer’s block. The pause had nothing to do with his story; it had nothing to do with the quality of his writing. The disconnect had everything to do with his personal life. No, a simple text to his girlfriend didn’t solve his problems but stepping away from the blinking cursor and exploring his emotions through the art of language allowed Joe to clear the haze around his creativity.
The next time you find yourself searching for the right words, take a few minutes to reflect on your emotional state. You never know what you might find.