Putting down the pen to overcome writer's block
Full disclosure: I started on a different blog post before this one, but I’d rather talk about this this week… but I’m still trying to get this out by midnight, so this is gonna be a very short post.
Writer’s block is a sort of paradoxical thing. The only way through it is often to find a word or idea that the poet deems worthy of exploration, but more often than not, it happens because a poet is thinking too hard about what they want to write. In these situations, the poet is staring at the page with the same three thoughts they don’t like running through their heads on repeat, noticing nothing new come up that’s capable of getting them through the block.
But when this happens, often all they really need is a little bit of new stimulus.
They need to take a walk, read some poetry that they themselves feel inspired by, or turn inwards and ask themselves different questions in the realm of the art they’re creating to see what answers come up.
The reason I’m thinking about this this week is because of a client I’m speaking to next week whose team is in the midst of a true behemoth of a project that’s so overwhelming and that they’ve been hacking away at for so long that many on the team don’t even believe the project can truly be completed.
First of all, there’s something inherently counterproductive about meeting a challenge that feels enormous by eyeing the finished product that feels impossibly far away. A poem gets written one word at a time, and nobody can predict if or when they’ll hit a spark that makes the whole thing elicit itself far easier.
But second of all, this collective experience of grappling with a seemingly intractable problem strikes me as being similar to the artist’s experience of writer’s block, and one of the things we’ll explore in this session is how sometimes, the best way to overcome writer’s block is to put down the pen.
Of course, putting down the pen doesn’t mean you’re not still working on your craft. It just means searching for new stimuli that you can take back to your work. Doing this can be as simple as identifying the broad challenge you’re facing as well as the specific challenge you’re grappling with today and asking three questions about each:
What can I control in this situation?
Where is the opportunity for growth?
Who can I lean on for support?
Now, these questions aren’t some magic bullet; they don’t make the work go away, and depending on the nature of the challenge, we may need to ask different or more specific questions to come away with answers that help us move forward.
But what matters is the fact that asking the questions is often infinitely more valuable than dragging a dead pen across a page until the paper rips.