When you just can’t write a word …

Art & CultureMental HealthThought-provoking

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Ida Nieves explores the strange phenomenon of Writer’s Block.

September 26, 2020. A date I will never forget. That was the day I decided to go back to writing after a five year hiatus. Yes, Writer’s Block (with capital W and capital B) had hit me hard. I honestly thought my writing career was over. After not having written one word in those years, I feared I had forgotten how to work with words. I had kept a journal during that time, but ‘Dear Diary’ is somewhat different from writing a novel.

I must have stared at that piece of paper for what seemed like forever that day … I had no idea what I was going to write. I felt like that Fourth Grader way back, writing an essay for her teacher, full of excitement and nervousness. ‘Scared’ might be a better term. 

How was I going to be the next Emily Bronte when I couldn’t even write a word?

The worst thing an aspiring novelist can face is Writer’s Block. That wall. That slamming into a mental barrier and coming to a complete halt. It’s frightening. You’re literally paralyzed. Not a word, not an idea comes to you. And you feel utterly useless because you can’t do what you want to do. You can’t say what you want to say. You lose your inner voice. Your source and means of expression just disappear.

Ours, the creative profession, is fickle. It’s hard to keep coming up with original ideas. Whether you write, or paint, or sing, or dance, the struggle is to keep people interested. There’s the rub. There is the pressure. And many of those times we can’t focus on our work are because we are too busy wondering if people will like it. As a profession, it’s a constant anxiety. You’re paid to produce originality, uniqueness, a one-of-a-kindness. When you can’t, then what do you do?

The creative profession doesn’t discriminate. You either have the spark, or you don’t. You can try to develop it, make yourself better at it, but you can’t do anything when it ain’t there! It’s an unforgiving art, and at times painful and unyielding, Still, when you’re passionate about what you do, you persist. This is what you’re meant to do. This could be your life. This IS your life.

So, when you find you can’t write a single word, it’s nothing short of a crisis. I hated my Writer’s Block. At that time, I was struggling with a novel I was writing. I had a dramatic story to tell. I was doing research. I was all in. But I never made it past the first chapter. I’m not sure why I wasn’t able to continue, I just know it got harder and harder to come up with ideas. Was it the story? Was it too much? I never could quite figure that out. All I know is that I just couldn’t do it anymore. And one day, I just couldn’t write at all. 

I put my pen and my notebook away, stopped looking at the file on my computer, and never went back to it. Believe me, it hurt.

It felt like I just totally gave up on the dream of a lifetime. I had no choice but to think, “I have to move on to something else”, which was profoundly frightening. Writing was all I had really wanted to do since school days. I never thought I would ever go through something like that.

I didn’t know what to expect after that. My time of writing seemingly was done. I kept myself busy doing other things. I never scrapped my novel or deleted the file though. It was all still there. Always in the back of my mind. I think about that now, and I see it as a sign. Out of sight – in my case – was certainly not out of mind, and it didn’t make my struggle any easier. “Why didn’t you just try to go back and work on it?” you might ask. And it seems like a valid question. The simple answer was, I wasn’t ready yet.

That’s the thing with Writer’s Block. It’s not something you can rush or just get over. It’s a signal to your brain that you’re over-stretched and need some time to regroup, to rethink. 

There is a lot of advice out there as to how to get over it. I can’t say what is best. Some of the advice is extreme, out of the ordinary. What I can suggest is definitely to step away from whatever you’re working on for a while. While my five year hiatus might have gone on a bit long and been unusually complicated, I feel it’s what I needed. 

Another tip … you don’t necessarily have to continue where you left off. Start something new while the ideas are in your head, while you are filled with the creative spirit. And one further suggestion … I don’t think it’s a good idea to scrap your book. That jotter/file is your hard work. Your blood, sweat, and tears. It’s worth a lot. 

Since I’ve started to write again I’ve composed a few poems and worked on a couple of short stories and some essays and articles. My novel is still there, and I do plan to get back to it. But I’m in no rush. This world is brand new to me, and I’m enjoying taking the time to see what I can do.

So, while it is difficult, Writer’s Block is not the end of everything. It’s certainly not an excuse to give up. Find a way to get through it, over it, under it – whatever – and move onward to being the creative being you are.

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