Writer’s Block

Breaking through writer’s block is a popular topic on writing blogs, but I think much of the advice is misleading. There is a notion that you can produce something good, or at least something workable, if you just try hard enough and follow some special routine for brainstorming ideas and getting them down into a post. It’s true that you’ll be able to produce something, but to me the difficulty itself is not a barrier, it’s a signal. It’s a signal that you don’t really know what you’re talking about, that you haven’t thought through your ideas properly or maybe even that you have nothing at all to say. Sure, when you sit down to write you’ll find that at times the words come easier, at times harder, but the difficulty should never lie in the material; that is, the difficulty should never lie in what you have to say rather than how you want to say it.

Goethe wrote the second part of Faust sporadically over many years, sitting down to write whenever he felt like it, and on whatever topic he wished, rather than being bound by the structure of the story and forced along a linear narrative. The disjointed nature of the work reveals this, but the other effect of his method is that there is absolutely no filler. Each part was written with enthusiasm and energy, and while one part may clash forcefully into the next, there is no inferior filler to be found between them.

When you find yourself stuck for words, ask yourself: why is that? Notice how whenever you have something exciting to share with your friends you are never lost for words, and oftentimes those words cannot stop flowing. The same must be true when you set out to write any kind of material. When you have something you truly care about to share with your reader, the words will find themselves. When you’re stuck, it’s because you don’t know what to say. That may be because you need more time to research and develop your ideas, or it may be that you’re writing filler. Use the block as a signal to stop and reflect.

Further Reading

Proust wrote that the true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold a hundred universes that each of them beholds. Thus, in the words of Ruskin, what good books give us is not mere knowledge, but sight.

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