I have a personal theory about writer’s block: it doesn’t exist.
Can’t think of anything to write about? I might be thinking too hard. I’ll try a free write, or pick a prompt, or ask a friend to give me a topic. Bam. I might think I’m stuck, but really, I just need a jump-start. I say this out loud to myself.
Can’t figure out how to get a piece of writing to work? I need to revise. This is where it can feel daunting—but I’m still not “blocked.” I say this out loud to myself.
All of this mental and verbal reframing is to say that the concept of “writer’s block” is an easy out. We can declare we’re blocked and speak it into existence. We can absolve ourselves of having to keep trying. Those around us, even non-writers, will nod knowingly when we speak of this affliction.
I reject this affliction! I believe being “blocked” is really a deeper problem, like “short on time to write” or “lacking a community to share ideas and drafts with” or “need to tap into one of my sources of inspiration.” Then, once we write, if our stories feel incomplete, fragmented, muddy, or one step from the trash bin, we aren’t blocked so much as puzzled.
“Blocked” sounds so final. When I say it out loud, it is all hard consonants and the firm end stop of the D. “Puzzled” sounds like something I can buzz through, break apart and put back together.
Here is the takeaway: You are never starting with nothing. Say it out loud.
If you haven’t written anything yet, what you have at your disposal is your mind.
If you have written something but don’t know how to revise or improve it, what you have at your disposal is your voice.
An exercise for the writer who can’t write
Choose a favorite story and read several pages aloud.
Reading aloud engages multiple senses. You are both seeing and hearing the words. Further, your mouth is forming them, so there are the physical sensations of speaking guttural consonants and softer vowels. You might say the word “cinnamon” and immediately smell it. You might mention piano and hear a sonata in your mind. Multi-sensory engagement is inspiring!
Reading aloud can put you in a creative, noticing mindset. Once you are there, fixate on one aspect of the story—a favorite character trait of the protagonist, a memorable line of dialogue, a physical detail about the setting—and use it as a writing prompt. Put down the story and pick up your pen.
An exercise for the writer who wrote, but needs to revise
Print out your draft. Having it in your hands vs. staring at it on the screen is akin to a change of scenery. If you hand-wrote it originally, do the reverse: type it up and look at it on the screen.
Now, read it out loud. Your brain works faster than your mouth, so slowing down to read out loud gives your brain a chance to recognize clunky phrases, run-on-sentences, even misspelled words or grammar errors that your mind, in creative mode, skipped over. Your speaking mind will immediately detect them; you will stumble over those passages. Make note of where the writing doesn’t flow.
Also, are you cringing at all? The dialogue that sounded fine in your mind is landing differently out loud. Actually speaking it will remind you of how people actually speak.
Mark up your draft, make some changes, then read it out loud again. Better?
Repeat this process as necessary! Remember, you are only blocked if you say you are.
Do you read your drafts out loud? Will you try one or both of these exercises to reject the notion of writer’s block? Share with us in the comments.
Related reading: Fall into new writing by revisiting old drafts
Want to receive tips and inspiration like this in your inbox every Sunday morning? Join our email list community! You will receive weekly advice, a year’s worth of weekly writing prompts as a FREE download, and be eligible to participate in our monthly photo prompt contest for a chance to share an original piece of writing with our community of more than 2,000 writers.