Why do so many of us, so often, face Writer’s Block? To answer that question, we have to understand what Writer’s Block really means. If we don’t want to write but have to, are we facing Writer’s Block? Maybe we honestly don’t yet know what we want to say. And so we need to follow our instincts and read more, or experience more, or analyze more before we begin to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Of course, sometimes there are external constraints that force us to write, like exams or publisher deadlines. We are unlikely to do our best writing under such pressure. But sometimes you have to write before you are ready and so you jump in and do your best. Perhaps you discover what you think while writing it.
When facing what feels like Writer’s Block, you must look inward and honestly reflect if you yet have something to say. What I have learned in my own journey as a writer is that reading, analyzing and thinking ARE part of my writing process. And so give yourself credit for all the different components of writing. You cannot short cut the process. When I go to a writing retreat, even one of my own, I often bring reading materials because time set aside for writing should be used for whatever stage of the process you are wading through. Before I write I read, I take notes on those readings, and organize those notes. All part of writing.
Writer’s Block can be paralyzing. When you know what you want to say, what your contribution is, and still can’t begin, frustration mounts. What gives? My guess is you are afraid to be judged. Once someone reads your writing, you are exposed. They might learn what you fear might be the ‘truth’: that you aren’t really so smart, that you don’t really deserve your spot in life, whatever it is. Your imposter syndrome has raised its ugly head.
In my experience people who did not expect to be heard, or seen, as serious thinkers and writers are the ones most likely to experience imposter syndrome. This has been my personal experience. I was raised to be a wife and mother. I remember my mother telling me to become a nurse or teacher so that I could support myself if my (as of yet purely hypothetical) husband ever left me. Perhaps your parents, like mine, were not college educated and couldn’t imagine you in a job where you thought and wrote for a living. Childhood socialization is sticky! At every new career stage, my imposter syndrome once again rears its ugly head, sometimes sabotaging my productivity. Long after I was a Full Professor, I spent a sabbatical at the Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. We had all been chosen from an international pool of applicants to spend a year at this retreat center. We were invited because to finish our manuscripts, or to start new ones. And yet, my writing group at the Center, mostly but not entirely women, spent time exploring our imposter syndrome. We all still wrestled with it. Those raised outside the elite class often continue to doubt themselves throughout their careers.
What to do? I learned a remarkable trick from a classic book authored by sociologist Howard Becker, Writing for Social Scientists. What causes the paralysis is fear of being judged. Slay that fear. Write a spew draft. What is that? A draft that you quite literally vomit out. A draft you would rather jump off a cliff then let anyone else read. Just spew out whatever words flow from your fingertips. It will be drivel. It should be drivel. But it doesn’t matter because no one will ever see it. It is just a trick to jumpstart your writing. And yet, it is usually much more than that. Behold you have a first draft!
Most of writing is revising. If you have something to revise you are well on your way to success. Congratulations.