"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Battling Writer's Block With Courage!

Guest post by: Sarah Webb of S.L. Writes

The key to successfully battling writer’s block lies in your courage to write badly and to write authentically. This is difficult for writers who struggle with perfectionism.
You see, writer’s block is not a lack of ideas, but actually a fear of writing.
Two primary branches of the fear cause writer’s block: fear of not meeting our own standards, and the fear of rejection from others.

Fear of Not Meeting Our Own Standards

Dara Girard, author of The Writer Behind the Words, says that when we have trouble writing, we should just write any way.

Many writers think they’re writer’s block is a lack of interesting subjects to write about. They toss out topic after topic because it’s not the “perfect” topic. Their writer’s block is really a case of perfectionism.
They’re paralyzed by the potential flaws in every idea. They stare at a blank page for hours waiting to come up with the “perfect” opening.

Occasionally they come up with an idea that’s so perfect, they’re afraid they can’t do it justice. They’re overwhelmed by the “perfection” of the idea with the relative “imperfection” of their writing.
For defeating this perfectionist’s writer’s block, the courageous approach is to write a rough draft that’s supposed to be rough and imperfect. Rather than endlessly watching the cursor blink on the page, remind yourself that writing is 90% revision.
A finished product is merely a tenth of all the work that’s been done.
When you realize that whatever you initially put on paper is supposed to be revised, you’re less afraid to just go with it.

Fear of Rejection from Others

This branch of fear has two stems.
Writers might fear criticism about their writing skill.

One tool to break down this wall is to tell yourself that your skill can only improve if your write. If your approach is to wait until you’re a highly skilled writer before you write anything, then you will never write anything, and you will never become highly skilled.
A second coping mechanism is to read rejection letters sent to legendary writers. Earnest Hemingway was once told that it would be “extremely rotten taste” and “horribly cruel” to publish his writing. You can find more rejections of famous writers online.

The second stem comes from the fear of revealing your authentic self to the world which is liable to think and say anything. We fear vulnerability.
If you’re supposed to be writing a piece that gets a little personal, you may feel blocked because you’re anxious about revealing anything about yourself.
This might require the greatest degree of courage to overcome.

A few tips that might encourage you in this situation:

• Remember that mean critics will strike no matter what you do or write.

• Determine how much value might be added if you include the personal content, and how much value could be lost if you delete the personal content. Weigh the pros and cons as objectively as possible, and make your decision from that. (Even with the “objective” data, it will take courage to include the personal content. The exercise won’t remove the fear, but it will give you motivation to act despite the fear.)

• Visualize one reader (real or imagined) who needs to hear your story. When I decided to blog about a topic I’d never expressed to anyone, not even my closest relatives, I was moved to write for others who needed encouragement.

Whether it’s insecurities about your skills or fear of scrutiny, it all boils down to this: Have the courage to write, no matter what.

Agree or disagree? How do you deal with writer's block?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net


  1. Thanks, Sarah, for sharing this. Thanks to you too, Jennifer, for hosting. :) I'd not thought about writer's block in this much detail, but it really makes sense. I know when I dance around a project it's generally because I am not sure what to say, how it will come off, etc.. This really boils down to fear. Of late, I've been making myself just write, whether it's lousy or not to start, I just work to get to it. As you said, this gives you something to work with, and you can go from there. Funny, this is something I am always telling my teen writing students to do, yet I don't always follow my advice. Go figure.

    Thanks again to both of you, I appreciate this perspective and food for thought!

    1. Thanks for your response, Karen. It's good that you're able to make yourself write even when you don't feel up to the challenge. That makes all the difference.


    2. Jennifer Brown BanksOctober 12, 2012 at 6:51 AM

      Thanks, Karen. Glad to offer a few helpful "morsels". :-)

  2. Yes, I do believe that a certain kind of courage sometimes can play a role. Possibly inspiration can also come from a certain amount of assertiveness, and not being afraid to just freely write what I think, and just experiment with expressing my thoughts in a playfull way.

    Personally I like to basically just state what in general I want my writing to do, (frequently also actually write that down first) and than just start writing what I think for myself. Than later aim to somehow organise, and arrange it into something more easy to read.

    For example with this Comment I did want to write a comment that could show a little insight into how I deal with writer's block, or actually about how I usually don't experience writer's block because of this technique I use.

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksOctober 12, 2012 at 6:54 AM


      You have an interesting approach; thanks for sharing it here. :-)

    2. Yeah, hpvanduuren. I think your technique shows that you're not trying to have a perfect first draft. You're not afraid to produce something that's a bit messy at first, because you understand that revising is given.

      Thanks for sharing your technique!

    3. Recently for my Short Story writing, I also re-discovered the Zen-like writing techniek that writer Ray Bradbury wrote about in his book titled:
      'Zen in the Art of Writing'

      It works somewhat similar as what I described in the previous reply, for what writing freely is concerned, only slightly different, with an emphasis on relaxing and - how paradoxically this may sound - avoiding to think.

      The funny thing is that I haven't even read the actual book myself, only read about his technique in a Book Review, and it easily gets me flowing with words.

  3. Writer's block gives me a headache if I try too hard, so I find it best to walk away. A walk generally triggers a memory or an idea. Thanks for this post. We are always listening to that inner critic.

    1. Linda, walking away is a great strategy. I just wrote a post on my personal blog called the Runaway writer. Joyce Carol Oates does a similar thing, except she runs when she feels stuck.

      Thanks for the idea!

    2. Jennifer Brown BanksOctober 13, 2012 at 10:54 AM


      I enjoyed reading your post @ your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts there and here.

  4. Jennifer Brown BanksOctober 12, 2012 at 6:57 AM


    Hmmm...it's hard to believe you even experience "writer's block". You are so prolific! Thanks for stopping by and weighing in. :-)

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  6. Thanks for breaking down the causes of writer's block in such detail. I love the sentence "We fear vulnerability."

    Your post shows that writer's block is more than just the inability to write at a particular moment in time; it includes a personal element. The solution you provide, courage, is the only one that works. Great post.