Writer’s block and Procrastination: Two different problems that every writer must deal with regularly.
Writer’s block is an issue that often come up in discussions among writers. Not that the problem is as threatening as its name suggests. But it is the variety of solution proffered by individuals that makes it a worthy topic.
I am mindful that procrastination and writer’s block are sometimes construed as the same problem. However that is not the case. In my understanding, the two have some differences. Simply put, procrastination is delaying a project completion beyond its due date, for no good reason. I purposely avoided using “postponement”, because postponement does not have the same negative connotations that goes with procrastination.
Another way of looking at it is like this; postponement occurs for a good reason. Whereas procrastination occurs as a result wrong prioritization. If I delayed an article delivery due to a headache, the contractor might understand. But it’s a different situation if I was complacent, and relegated the article to the last minute, maybe because I wanted to first make some snowmen.
A writer’s block on the other hand is a situation where a writer is unable to articulate the desired expression. Motivation deficiency is sometimes wrongly blamed for writer’s block, but usually the true culprit is lack of clarity.
Writer’s block is like driving slowly on a car because a foggy windscreen. The problem is not inexperience on the part of the driver. The slowness is due to poor visibility, and the speed can be improved once the foggy windscreen is defogged. The driver once again would regain sharp orientation and good focus because of improved visibility. So the question is; how do you get the fog cleared? In other words how do you get over a writer’s block?
Every writer have to deal with writer’s block, not even the most prolific writer is spared. If you are familiar with a piece I wrote; Practices that helps with my writing, you would know that It is my character to write only when it is convenient. Given that I only write when the situation is perfect, one would suppose that I’m spared from writer’s block. However that is not the case. There are those few times when the situation feels right, yet the words aren’t forthcoming. Those are the times I start to wonder if there are some other practices that I am omitting, which would otherwise help me write better.
For that reason, I have gathered some of the practical solutions suggested by other writer. And I hope you find it useful in improving your own writing.
Solutions and good practices.
Stop writing for a while. One solution for writer’s block that most people agree on is that suspending the writing for a short time usually helps. Because you can refresh the mind through an alternative activity like exercise, cooking, or moon dancing. By engaging in something else the writer is reinvigorated. In fact the writer is not only energized, but is also simultaneously fed with new ideas.
The truth is that our brain works in mysterious ways. What we consider a block might just be the brain saying “give me a break”. Your inspiration can be renewed after watching a movie, or after reading your favorite book. Many times taking a very good nap is all you it takes.
Writing prompts. Referring to prompts is another way to fix writer’s block. Some people don’t like prompts because it’s an unnecessary interference. Others like to be challenged, and prompts does just that. I like to be challenged, and that is why I like writing prompts. By the way, if you are interested in prompts read this article, Favorite Online Inspiring Prompts.
There is another way to view prompts. Imaging trying to get to the 7th floor of a building. The stairway are close, and you are thinking how to get up to the 7th floor. Then someone comes up with a ladder, a rope, a spring shoe and other climbing equipment. The person leaves you with the climbing tools to imagine for yourself, how to get up the 7th floor with them. Of course if properly used, the tools could get you to the 7th floor.
You are probably wondering what the relationship between writing and getting upstairs is. But if you consider writing as a journey to a destination, then it starts to make sense. So if prompts can trigger your imagination to successfully get to your destination, then that’s great as well. (Disclaimer: Take the 7th floor analogy literally, at your own peril).
Set goals and a time limit. Setting a goal and time limit is a good way to get around writer’s block. With a sense of urgency our brain tend to work more efficiently (Not true for everyone). Nevertheless, for some writers, the sense of urgency helps to clarify their objective. And writing is all about having a clear objective and goal. With a clear objective comes the positive and negative reinforcement. You can reinforces the negative aspect of not finishing on time by understanding the accompanying consequences. Such consequence could be lost contract. On the other hand the positive is reinforced by having an expectation for a reward, if the project is completed on time.
Positive and negative reinforcement requires a lot of discipline. Especially if it is a personal writing project where the writer is both the reward giver, and the punisher.
Play your story like a movie. I found this solution interesting. Apparently some people when they hit the writer’s block, they fix it by watching movies, and pictures that are related to their story. The mechanism is replacing the characters in the movies, and pictures with the ones from their stories. Doing so the writer gets the feeling of watching his own characters. Watching your characters play out their roles is exciting, and also could be a useful editing tool for your writing.
Of all the solutions I found online playing your characters out, or watching them act out their roles is the most peculiar. I have not tried it before, but I sure will.
Ask question. Transform yourself into a detective. Ask your characters the tough questions. Never mind the awkward feeling that you will have to answer those questions. Always remember writing is a kind of multi-tasking. A writer often have to deal with multiple thoughts at the same time. Besides your question and answer setting doesn’t necessarily have to be that of accuser and defendant. It could be a family setting, friends etc. Whatever your characters are, at some point they would have to answer, or ask some question.
Taking note of the questions and answers will help your writing in the long run.
Prepare before writing. Preparation ahead of a writing task is probably one of the best solutions for writer’s block. Writing is like going to work. The more prepared you are the easier the work flow would be. If you planned to plant some corns on your garden, and you have the seed. You just can’t walk into your garden with the seeds alone and start planting. You would likely face a lot of difficulties. It won’t be long before you start pondering, how do you open the ground to put in your seeds. When you get hungry and thirsty, do you eat the seed you planned to plant? Assuming it was a planting competition, you stand to lose to the farmer who brought a hoe and some refreshment.
Writing works the same way as farming, or any other occupation. So before you face your computer, brainstorm your ideas. Also Write an outline if you have to, and prepare some of the details in your story. Your writing will flow much better with those readiness.
Be disciplined. Being discipline is probably the most difficult of all the solutions for writer’s block. Like everything else, writing has to be done regularly. Personally this is one area I must work hard to adapt. Lack of discipline is perhaps the reason I am not a professional writer.
The experts insist that one has to write every day in order to perfect the act. Writing should be a routine activity with time dedication. After all you don’t become a pro salesman by showing up for work only on the weekends. Some writers go as far as designating a special area where they do their writing every day.
Being discipline is tough, however nothing excellent comes easy. Prevention is better than cure, and you can consider discipline as a preventive measure.
Always start writing from the middle. Starting your writing midway is another preventive measure against writer’s block. I have read multiple writers refer to this solution. In fact stopping in the middle of a writing is said to be one of Ernest Hemingway best writing practices. I read that he would often stop in the middle of great story, just when he had a perfect line. Although that is antithetical to my own practice; writing only when I have a perfect idea. However, breaking from his writing just when the idea was right, leaves him a good starting point on resumption.
In other words, it is how you start off with writing that matters. If you start off confused and disoriented, you will probably fall asleep with your hands on the key board.
Peer Pressure. Finally I leave you with the most difficult solution, which nevertheless have worked for some people. That is joining or forming a peer pressure group. Most of the solutions mentioned above are personal. But peer review, or peer pressure group brings in other players in the game. And the logic is that once other players are involved, people tend to up the ante. With different players the challenge takes a more serious dimension.
For example the positive and negative reinforcement mentioned above would work for a disciplined individual. However in a group both reward and punishment becomes realistic. So instead of being your own judge, your peers becomes your judge.
It is often said that what is good for the Goose is also good for the Gander. That is not the case in writers’ world. In this realm, both the Goose and the Gander is responsible for finding what is good for them individually.