Rage Against the Blank Page
Now that I collaborate, edit, and work with other writers, I find myself both fighting writer’s block and helping others do the same.
“The only way out is through” is a cliché I’ve seen in motivational posters, heard in support meetings, and read as email signature taglines for years. Like most clichés though, before it became mass marketing pablum, there was truth in it. When it comes to writing, it certainly can be true.
Similar to most creative functions, writing is highly susceptible to both inside and outside influences. Outside factors like time, deadlines, required components, and trying to divine what your audience is hearing from the words you are producing all play a role. Internally, things like mood, personal issues, health, and even good old fashioned tiredness greatly affect what we produce when the blank page is the enemy.
But then there is writer’s block, that dreaded happening when the river of mental ideas dams itself with some unexplainable force and stops the flow of productivity altogether. It is a problem as old as the written word itself, and the prescribed ways to alleviate it are numerous. But if there was any one cure to it, that person who discovered it would be famous for writing about it already, so suffice to say that many must still must have the sickness, because so many still seems to need the cure.
Since I started writing publicly, and especially now that I collaborate, edit, and work with other writers, I find myself both fighting writer’s block and helping others do the same. As of late, my advice has become very simple, straight to the point, and given more and more frequently. Even strangers on social media in the writing communities I follow and interact with get the same advice as soon as I see anyone struggling with that old mental anchor, writer’s block. Thus I have come to bring the knowledge and lay on them the best piece of writer’s block advice I have:
Write your way out of it.
Now, before you roll your eyes and laugh it off as trite or sarcastic, know that I am serious and there is a method to this madness. Writing is one of those multi-sensory things, where you feel, see, touch, and think yourself through it. Those senses and the mechanics of typing on keys or holding a pen have certain, well-worn physiological grooves that go along with them. For mental ruts, like their cousins on mountain roads once you are stuck in them, the best course of action is to just continue ahead until you come to the end of it, as opposed to trying the unclimbable sides and getting sideways or worse.
So the best thing to do, I and many others have found, is to start writing. Attack that blank page with something, anything, just so the machinations of your internal writing machine get moving again. It sounds silly, but start writing about not being able to write. Don’t worry about, form, or function, or even if it makes sense, just start throwing words unto that blank page telling it exactly how you feel about its mocking of you and your creative process.
If it sounds silly, at first it will feel even sillier. But personificating the page isn’t that far removed from how we write anyway, and will activate the same circuits you need to write what you need to write once the writer’s block has gone down to its inevitable defeat. Rage at the page, unloading your full anger and frustration at the tyranny of blankness. Laugh and mock it, for daring to challenge your creativity and talent. Empathize with the pitiful state of the page not being able to do anything but sit there and take the vocabularic assault you are mounting against it. If you need to process all 5 stages of grief in a word storm do it, or add a 6 stage if necessary.
The point is, before you know it, there are indeed words on the page. Your mind is working again. You can keep going, or you can go back and see if there are any worthy tidbits to glean from the literary outburst you produce. It will probably be a mess, may even be unintelligible, but also might have some really good stuff in there. Regardless, there are flowing ideas again in the canyon of your mind, and once again the productivity is something you are producing, not just burning through. Even if it takes several attempts, you will at least be doing something as opposed to the dreaded, dead end, soul-sucking nothing that previously prevailed.
If nothing else, at least there will no longer be a blank page. Blank pages are the worst. Rage against the empty page, and keep the writer’s block at bay.