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Whether you are a professional writer, write as part of your job responsibilities or are a student, you have probably experienced writer’s block. Writer’s block is the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.
Mitch, a 26-year-old graduate student in political science, is in the final phase of completing his master’s degree and writing his thesis. He hopes to work in the Foreign Office. Mitch is engaged and his wedding is scheduled for the summer, shortly after the completion of his studies. In fact, life is going pretty well for Mitch, except for one major item. He is having severe writer’s block and cannot seem to get going on his thesis.
Leah, a 30-year-old journalist and writer, admits that from time to time, she just cannot get a particular article started and/or finished. Leah asked for help because although she loves to write, the number of times she has writer’s block is becoming overly stressful.
While many people may experience an occasional feeling of writer’s block as a passing annoyance, others cannot push past the quagmire of feeling totally stuck.
In this article, I identify some of the common causes of writer’s block and some useful coping skills that help in overcoming this problem.Causes and solutions for writer’s block
1. Getting started. Difficulty getting started is a common problem for many. Perhaps the pressure to produce a piece of writing is overwhelming, or maybe you are not in the right mood to write.
Nevertheless, all beginnings have starting points. Rather than trying to be analytical about the reason, my advice is to try to begin. After all, you cannot really know what the problem is, if you do not try to face the task.
If you do not know how to get started, or are unclear about the expected task, seek clarity from the person asking you to write the assignment. Speak to colleagues or Google your questions. Be clear and realistic about what is expected of you and what you are expecting of yourself. These small steps actually begin the starting phase.
2. Problems in being creative. Sometimes we feel creative and other times not. This, in fact, is one of the major culprits in why people have writer’s block. It is not that the well runs dry, but, rather, that sometimes we need to find the right moment to reach into the well.
I often get creative brainstorms when least expecting them. I try to jot down a note and go back to that idea when I sit down to write.
Try not to force a creative moment. They come when we least expect them.
3. Stressful circumstances. There are many things that may affect the mood to write. Among these are depression, anxiety, a failed relationship, financial troubles or simply waking up on the wrong side of the bed.
If you feel stressed and this is the reason for your writer’s block, try walking away from your writing space. Go take a run, a walk or ride a bike. Listen to your favorite music when you write – I always put on smooth jazz. Take breaks, do some stretching, make a cup of your favorite hot beverage and then get back to the task.
4. Fixation of an idea. Some people experience writer’s block because they are fixated on one way to approach the subject that they are writing about. Do not be afraid to change your direction or idea, if you are convinced that you are not getting anywhere. Good writers do this all the time.
5. High expectations. Sometimes setting your expectations too high can cause writer’s block. Take some of the pressure off. Remember, your work will probably be better than you think. If you are worried about the finished product, ask a friend or someone you trust to read over what you wrote and to offer constructive criticism. Get an editor, if you write professionally. Most professional writers have someone to look over their work to make corrections and suggest constructive changes.
6. Deadline anxiety. Many writers have fear about not meeting deadlines for submitting their work. Try to focus away from these thoughts and pretend that there is no deadline. Imagine that you have all the time you need.
7. Performance anxiety. Many writers question their ability to write. One useful tool is to imagine that you are someone else, perhaps a famous writer whom you admire. Another idea is to talk out your ideas with a sympathetic listener, perhaps a friend or family member.
Remember, writer’s block is a common problem that many of us face from time to time. However, if you are really stuck, try some of the tips described above. They work. I know.
The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana.
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