Please welcome my good friend, the talented C. Streetlights, author of two memoirs, Tea and Madness, and the newly released Black Sheep, Rising, who joins us to explain how to get through that horrible virus known as “writer’s block.”
When you know that an unknown audience will potentially read your writing, inspiration can suddenly shut down. I only have about six consistent readers and it can be hard to silence the inner critic that will sometimes take up residence in my crown chakra. Here are five things I’ve learned to help me chisel away my writer’s block.
Read Other Writers
This might seem counter-intuitive to some, thinking that reading other writers might create more insecurity rather than inspiration, but that’s ridiculous. Reading reminds me of how words can thrill and terrify all at once, or how they can make me laugh soon after making me weep. We have a luxury in allowing letters to drip from our fingertips, letting them flicker as silhouettes across the walls of our everyday lives, yet we can make it a chore to pen them onto paper as writers. Sometimes we need to allow them to be free, and read words in their natural habitat instead.
We say we write to be read. Why not read so we can write?
Set the Bar Low
Unless your name is Harper Lee, accept the reality that you will not Boo Radley yourself into a Pulitzer Prize with your first novel. Like my best frenemy Depression, Writer’s Block is a lying bitch who will tell you that there’s no point in writing anything if what you write is shit.
Now, this is what the truth is: Write your way – everyday – through writer’s block because what you write probably will be shit. And it’ll be funny once you’re out of that slump.
Listen, writers are eccentric by nature. I know, I am one. We want to be “masters of craft” and stuff. But all that craft mastery comes after writing complete garbage. That’s why we are so vulnerable to writer’s block, so you just gotta write everyday even if you know it won’t result in anything worth keeping. Think of it as your daily word fiber for your writing flow.
How Does This Block Make You Feel?
Sometimes writer’s block isn’t actually writer’s block, sometimes it’s more than that. What is your writer’s block saying to you emotionally or mentally? I get my worst block when I feel the most insecure about succeeding rather than failing. Because I’m a weirdo like that. Really, I am insecure about succeeding because than I feel like I have a responsibility attached to my writing instead of just having the ability to write for the love of it.
I know, I know. I’m working on it.
But it can be the opposite for other writers. The fear of failure can be excruciatingly difficult to overcome, or maybe it’s the fear of committing to a manuscript. There could be any number of emotionally paralyzing reasons that writer’s block is symbolizing and until that root cause is really addressed than, unfortunately, a writer won’t really be able to progress.
Play the What-if Game
I love this game so much that I put myself into writer’s block on purpose just so I can play it. I’ll explain when I discovered it, how to play and why it works so well with writer’s block.
My son struggles with the same severe social anxiety that I do and I would often need to distract him from rising anxiousness when I drove him to school as a younger child. For some reason, we were often blessed by seeing strange things on our way to school that would make him late and I’d have to write him a note to excuse him at the office. This began elaborate story telling between the two of us that always began with “What if…”
The way you play is to say “What if” to someone and then finish it with whatever possible thing that could happen: “What if instead waiting for pigs to fly, we looked for cows flying instead.” And then the next person continues the train of thought from there, each of you building on the possibility. I’ll tell you what, my son learned once that squid can open pickle jars and that is still a “What if” we build on.
The reason this game works is because language is actually restricted to a relatively small part of the brain, and it’s hard to communicate with ourselves (i.e., brainstorming) when we’re the only participant in the communication. Talking with someone else in a creative way (breaking out of the linear-analytical thinking) forces us to become more communicative with others.
What if that worked?
Zero F$cks Given
Sure, we write so our audience can enjoy what we’ve written, but we don’t write to please anybody but ourselves. There’s a difference. And I think when we forget that difference it’s easy to slowly shrink back into our shells and build up our own writer’s block again. We own our words, the words don’t own us, and I strongly feel that once we recognize we can better gain control over writer’s block.
Not everybody will like what we put out there. Not everybody will be nice about it. They won’t like what you wrote about them or what they think you’ve written about them. People will be mean. And let them be mean. That seems to be in style these days anyway. But don’t ever apologize for what you’ve written. You’ve gotten through that block. Don’t just write your words; write them so they know they can’t control you anymore.
I write memoir so uncomfortable truths come out through my pages, but the discomfort of some won’t ever negate the truth I write. I’ve given zero f$cks from the moment I’ve known zero was an option and never looked back.
No matter if you use one of these five tips I’ve identified to help with your writer’s block or another, every writer has battled a writing slump at some point and knows how frustrating it can be. We are all at this together, sitting at our typewriters and bleeding as Hemingway said. Hopefully we can all get through it without getting the stuff all over our manuscripts.
After writing and illustrating her first bestseller in second grade, “The Lovely Unicorn”, C. Streetlights took twenty years to decide if she wanted to continue writing. In the time known as growing up she became a teacher, a wife, and mother. Retired from teaching, C. Streetlights now lives with her family in the mountains along with their dog that eats Kleenex. Her memoir, Tea and Madness, was first published in 2015 and is available on Amazon. Her new memoir, Black Sheep, Rising, is available now.