How To Deal With The Dreaded Writer's Block?

Like my everyday routine, I double-clicked that WordPad shortcut on my desktop, all ready to start a new article. So, what should I write about this time? While pondering over this question, I looked to the bottom right of my screen, where the clock showed that I've spent the last two hours staring blankly at the white screen.

The Blank Screen of Writer's Block

The dreaded feeling that each and every writer, or any artist for that matter, go through is a creative block. And when your works are the primary source of your income, the situation can be disastrous. The effects can be both short-term and long-term and have a bad influence over all your previous and upcoming works.

So, what really is a writer's/creative block? In what ways it can affect you? And of course, how should you deal with it? Let's find out.

What is a Creative Block?

A creative block, at its simplest, is the inability to produce any new work. Originally associated with writers (termed as writer's block), the condition was heavily researched in the 70s and 80s.

While this covers most of the definition part, I've observed many authors and poets complain about the incredible difficulty of their art. They were amateurs and aspiring writers spread across the internet community. But the truth is, every creative individual, amateur or professional, can experience this problem at any time in their career. And all arts have the same level of difficulty (one way or another) and thus, the troubles in coping with their blocks.

Photographers missing out on the perfect click, or poems lacking the natural rhyme scheme. Painters looking for the magical stroke, and presenters seeking that excellent topic.

These are just a few examples. Dear writers, all these people are artists as well. You shouldn't go about belittling someone else's work.

As someone whose work revolves around putting words on paper, I choose to express that writer's block is a subset of the much grander creative block which continues to affect artists across all fields of the work and channels of communication.

What are the causes of a Creative Block?

While many feel that the block is due to a lack of creative ideas, this is just one of the basic reasons for the condition. In fact, one can have a variety of ideas at the ready and yet be are unable to do any productive work. The following is a broad list of major reasons for a creative block.

1. Lack of new ideas: Carrying on from a few sentences above, this is the most basic reason, with your mind leading you back to the exact same point where you started despite the many retakes. This monotony of your mind amplifies the effects, turning into a vicious cycle that puts an end to some (possibly) amazing ideas and turning you away from writing/continuing with you art.

2. Fear and doubt: Many artists use the experiences and examples from their lives in their works. So it is quite possible that there are times when you doubt about sharing some of your work, 'cause maybe it is just a bit private. Some artists even undervalue their own work and worry too much about their work lacking the quality to be a received well by the audience. This leads them to criticise their own work so much that it never makes past their own quality test.

As Stephen King puts it, "When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story."

3. Too much or too less: While brainstorming, you may end up with so many ideas, that your work becomes too complex to understand. You find it too hard to segregate your ideas and end up with total chaos. On the other hand, you might be spending too much time worrying about what you are writing that you seem to run out of ideas that are fresh, unique. (After this step, you end up at the first point)

Procrastination should be a sin. As should be the human constant of worrying consistently. Together, they put you on a path to find excuses for NOT working.

4. Time: A derivative of the previous reason, too much or too less time can affect your creativity, as it makes you lazy or tensed, respectively.

5. Your Private Life: It is said that a broken heart is the most creative. It is somewhat true, with pain being a strong motivation for anything you wish to do. And yet,  too much of it (or any other emotion) can be obvious in your works, and soon it loses the charm (becomes repetitive) as well. Evidently, a healthy personal life implies a good professional life.

6. Your surroundings: Your interactions with the people around you, that is, your family and friends is an important factor. Human beings are social animals, and our social interactions impact our personal lives significantly. A noisy and negative environment dulls your brains notably.

How can a Creative Block affect you?

Blocks give way to an irritated and frustrated artist, which can be derogatory to your personal relationships, ultimately leading to a lot of psychological and health problems. In severe cases, it can force you into a sense of worthlessness, trapping you under loads of negative sensations.

The lack of productivity affects the general behaviour of a person, making him cross and easily annoyed. Too much of anger will, of course, push people away, and that further damages the person's conduct.

Many artists turn to substance abuse, in order to improve creativity. And while some drugs do help, these options are a complete no-no, 'cause it is more trouble than what it is worth and there are many other ways to get back on track.
Burnout is a psychological condition, referring to exhaustion from and lack of interest in work.
Consider it as an extreme case of the creative block, where you have pretty much given up trying to make things work. And it is pretty much the end of your creative days, 'cause you have absolutely no more hopes at all. Sigh!

What should you do about your Creative Block?

I could go on regurgitating the same cliches of  'never give up', 'never back down' and 'try, try, try again'. While  these are annoying after some time, they should be the mantras for an artist.

And as  Robert Frost puts it in his popular poem, 'The Road Not Taken', once you have taken the path, there's no turning back.

With the motivational part to get you started, the following list of practical do's and don'ts should help you get rid of that dreaded feeling.

1. Do stare at the blank screen: Okay, this is gonna be very frustrating, but then, facing your problems is the best way of dealing with them. And this is as literal as it gets. Even when you can't seem to find the right words, you are better off putting your time in trying to churn out a few words every day than wasting your time procrastinating.

2. Don't be too critical of your work: Leave the criticism for the audience. While  you should not put forward an unfinished or poorly constructed work, but when your works are scarce, even a single good review can be beneficial. Get your works (that you feel good about) out to your audience and hope for the best.

3. Do keep your tools with yourself, at all times: Ideas can come anytime and anywhere, and you don't want to be cursing yourself for not being able to record it. If you are a photographer, always keep your camera in your bags. Just one good capture and you might get back in form. Writers should keep their notebooks/notepads/voice recorders (or the all rounder, aka smartphones) to keep track of their ideas instead of the days they spent worrying about their 'writer's block'.

4. Don't mix your ideas: After you have jotted down all the possible project ideas, take time in segregating them into proper categories. Categorising can boost your confidence, as a smaller number of projects per category would feel easier. It will also control the havoc those multiple topics were causing on your mind.

5. Do schedule and give time: Everything deserves time, and so does your work. No matter how much trouble you are facing in juicing out ideas, give it time. Everyday. And surely you will be going 'eureka' soon. Note: maintaining a proper routine helps.

6. Don't let your personal life have too much influence on your work: It is safe to say that the personal and professional lives of a person should never mix. But that is an ideal situation. Practically, they do affect each other, but it is important to keep a check on how much they reflect in one other. While the positives are a welcome, dealing with the negative in both aspects of your life go a long way.

7. Do have supportive people around you: Like the movies, supporting actors are the key to the protagonist's success. Similarly, having a supportive family or friends can help you a lot in dealing with your lack of productivity.

8. Don't plagiarise: Plagiarism is an easy way of keeping the work going on when you have deadlines to meet. But it is not right. You shouldn't steal from others, 'cause one day or the other you will get caught. Plus, your parasitic work may just turn you away from the art for a long time while leaving behind many disappointed fans.

9. Do inspire yourself from others' work: While plagiarism is wrong, you can always turn to other people's work for inspiration. Sometimes, even a single word from a poem or a story can make you write your own. It is a tried and tested formula, and it works every time.

There are a billion ways to tell a story, all you need to do is keep yours true to yourself.

10. Don't Overwork: There is no point forcing yourself to work continuously. Everyone has a breaking point, and one should be ready to accept theirs. Taking brakes at the right time is important, it helps you come back with high-quality works.

In Conclusion

Each and every artist suffers from a creative block in some part of their career. Ideally, it is how they deal with it that separates successful artists from the failed ones. Consider your block as an indicator for a need to take a break, and be positive about it. Giving up is never an option, and with patience, there's always a hope that you'll strike gold soon.