Writing is a bit like wearing clothes. Just as you have an awful dress day, you can have a bad writing day. It takes away your confidence and nearly ruins your day.
Imagine this scenario.
You wear clothes to work that don’t make you feel good about yourself. They’re either ill-fitting or you don’t like the combination. You can’t wait to go home and change. Sound familiar?
What’s worse, it happens on a day when things are going your way in the office — a promising lead, a great presentation, an appreciative client, boss on leave, an easy day at work, a party in the evening… And yet, something’s off. Oh yes, these clothes!
Now the writing equivalent.
You wake up in the morning with a ton of writing ideas that you can’t wait to transform into stories, articles and blog posts. You sit at your laptop and open a blank document. Give it a name. Set font, line and paragraph spacing. Here goes! Minutes pass. The words don’t come. Any moment now. Still nothing. You stare at the blank page as if expecting it to write itself. By now you’re annoyed with yourself.
After what seems like an eternity, the words begin to flow in a trickle. And then as suddenly they stop. More time passes. An hour goes by. It’s lunchtime already. You check the word count: 4 lines, 55 words. Yeesh!
It’s as if someone put up a yellow warning tape inside your head: Police line: You can’t write. After that it’s a matter of time before you struggle with self-doubt and writer’s block, although the jury’s still out on the latter.
Your perceived inability to write can be a real bummer. The good news is that it’s a temporary phase and you will eventually start writing again. Till then, here are five things you can do while you wait for the writing hormone to kick in.
Don’t beat yourself up
You have no reason to feel angry with yourself for not being able to write at a particular time or sometimes for days and weeks. Don’t allow the writing ego to pull you down. It makes it only harder to bounce back. The best of writers and authors have suffered from blank-page syndrome. In fact, even artists and musicians struggle with a creative block, a period when they are unable to produce a new work of art or musical score. Give it time. You’re not alone in this.
Not being able to write does not mean not writing at all. In the words of American novelist Louis L’Amour, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” While you may have difficulty writing long-form articles, short stories or that book you have been working on, you can write short posts on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Write as frequently as you can every week. It will help you find your writing mojo and win you followers, which is always a bonus and a confidence booster.
If not writing, then read
Do not let your writer’s block go waste. Use it as an opportunity to read great writing online such as essays and articles, and short stories and books including books on the art of writing by established writers and authors. Learn from their writing experiences, their processes and styles, their struggles with the written word, and apply those lessons to your own writing. Reading other writers can motivate you to write sooner than you think you will. While you’re at it, also read style guides. I recommend William Strunk, Jr’s timeless The Elements of Style, the Economist Style Guide, Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King among others, and hone your writing skills.
Lower your expectations
One of the pitfalls of writing is setting high expectations for your writing. Is it any good? Does it make sense? Was it worth writing? Will anyone read it? What will my peers think? Having reasonable expectations is a good thing because it inspires you to write, and write well. Too high and you’ll probably be critical of anything you write. Instead, write because you enjoy writing; because you have something to say; because you have ideas and stories to share. Above all, write for yourself first. Your writing has a voice: Let it speak for itself.
Visit a bookstore or book exhibition
This may sound strange but whenever you hit a wall in your writing, try and visit a bookstore or a book exhibition and browse those rows and shelves of books – it will encourage you to write again even if you have no plans to write a book. There’s something about seeing all those millions of words in print and coming away with the feeling “If they can write, so can I!” It has time and again propelled me to hit the keyboard.
It often takes only a spark, a momentary flash, to get inspired to write again. Until that happens, use these five effective steps to find your words and bring your stories to life.
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