Overcoming Writer’s Block: A Real Or Imaginary Obstacle?

Writer’s block is pretty much something everyone has heard about, and every writer at some point has thought that they had. Many a debate has surfaced over whether it’s even real, or just a branded name for an affliction that arises purely from external causes. While I don’t think a debate of that sort is of paramount importance, I certainly believe that like any slump there are usually active causes and active solutions, with the key being that I don’t believe it just magically comes and goes. If you are suffering from a creative slump, which any writer or artist surely does at some point, then it is important to identify probable causes and thus work towards necessary solutions, depending on your unique situation.

The reason it’s sometimes a debate, I believe, is because some would adopt the stance that it’s just a pretty excuse to fall back on when enough effort isn’t being made. I’ve even heard some people completely bewildered at being unable to come up with ideas, when creativity was flowing so freely not too long ago. This actually goes back to a topic I discussed some time ago, regarding the dangers of working purely off a device as fickle as inspiration rather than commitment, and I feel it’s relevant to this topic. If you are one of those who can’t understand why you’re struggling creatively, perhaps you are falling victim to relying on motivation, which comes and goes like moods and takes a lot out of you when it leaves.

It’s important to understand that a creative slump can arise because of a number of reasons. The first is absolutely laziness. When you falter in your commitment, and allow enough time to pass you by unproductively, it’s easy to slip out of the groove. However, that ideally should be easily fixable by re-aligning your priorities and getting back to business. The more severe causes of the creative slump known as writer’s block would be mental exhaustion, burnout and of course serious external factors like depression or tragedy. Mental exhaustion, whether from working too hard or writing too much or whatever the case may be, requires rest. It is a very healthy practice to get into the habit of stepping away from your work for a while, every now and then, taking a small break and then looking at it again at a later stage with a fresh perspective. If you’re continuously too close to your work, it’s easy to get burnout. I don’t believe that your creativity can just disappear in a flash, but you can, however, get stuck in a rut of bad habits, negative thought or laziness, or even just put yourself down enough that you diminish the creative spark.

If you are someone suffering from mental exhaustion rather than a major psychological or emotional strain, then there are some healthy things you can do to get that creativity and commitment flowing again. It sounds silly, but exercise is a good way to relieve stress and wake yourself up with renewed energy. Taking a break, as mentioned, is also an important step to recovery. Go out, have some fun, get with friends or engage with your other hobbies. Leave the work behind. I know for people like us, who want to create and do things all the time, or general workaholics, it’s extremely difficult, but the rewards are potentially enormous for taking that break. Further still, you can get into brainstorming, which is something I like to do. Don’t try and complete what you’re doing, all at once, but rather jot down ideas or random thoughts or sparks of creative output whenever you feel them there. Sometimes that can be enough to get you going again once you feel ready to. Another method I have tried before is to go back to your previous work and just read it, taking it in and reliving the good memories you had creating your work of before. If you adopt the right mindset and don’t allow it to get to you, it can really uplift you to revisit anything you’ve created in the past knowing that you had it in you, and remembering all it took to make it possible.

If you are plagued by more serious external issues, the one thing you absolutely cannot do is try to force the creativity out of you. That will worsen your condition, and lead to more stress, frustration and depression. There are few things worse, to use a writer anecdote, than staring for hours at a blank page and trying to force words out of your head. It just won’t happen, and you’re left feeling worse for the time wasted and the frustration you rack up. You’ve got to give yourself time to process and deal with your issues. If you’re fortunate enough that your art or work acts as the perfect escapism and you can heal by transporting yourself into your own world, that is good to an extent, but there’s also a danger in there that arises from being overly-reliant on your passion to escape your problems. Not only is that avoidance of the core problems, but it can cause further issues when the time comes that your passion doesn’t eradicate your negative feelings just like that. Give yourself time, you aren’t a machine after all.

Perhaps one of the most important methods also happens to be one of the most simple in concept. However it’s difficult to apply. That would be retaining a positive mental attitude. Few things are as good a motivator and commitment tool than the belief and confidence that you have what it takes to reach your goal. Further still, and a step beyond that, it is important to sometimes, where possible, look for the positives in a negative situation. The negatives should be important only regarding the extent to which you can learn from them, and those should become positive lessons. For a random example, if you happen to miss your personal deadline for completing a portion of your work, and find yourself lagging behind, then a lesson that can be learnt from that could possibly be to set smaller, more realistic goals, so as to take baby steps rather than giant leaps.

Overall, however, and by extension you need to have some kind of structure or plan in place, even if it’s just little goals you set for each given period of time. You can’t expect yourself to just take everything as it comes, or be at your best each time you get down to work. Neither can you be oblivious to overworking or falling victim to external psychological and emotional strains that can harm your output. Yes, commitment is absolutely a key ingredient to consistent, hard work, but burnout is a real barrier to productivity, and whether faced by a mental block like it or other severe strains, you cannot force yourself to produce work without taking the necessary time and measures to recover. In short, and to reiterate once again, writer’s block is just a form of burnout or a result of something as small as laziness or as large as a negative cognitive or emotional strain, and it’s up to you to identify your affliction and then take active solutions to overcome it. If you don’t do anything about it, it won’t go away, but at the same time if you try to force it away, you can cause further harm.

With that in mind, overcoming a mental block is a process with no clear cut solution or time frame, provided you understand that positive actions and a positive mindset are required over and above time.

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