Writer’s Block – and One Trick to Beat It

Writer's Block - and One Trick to Beat It

Some time ago, I had a problem. Not just any problem – a wicked, vicious bastard of a problem that plagued my waking moments and kept me from sleeping at night.

I couldn’t write.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I could write. I wrote web copy and ebooks and taglines and fiction and all kinds of writerly stuff. Not blog posts, though. No sir. I had great ideas for posts, I’d sit down with full intentions of banging out the best blog post ever, get through a title and maybe a paragraph or two, and then…

That was it.

It wasn’t very good. My language was stiff, my intros sucked, and my thoughts were scattered. I tried writing the mid-sections first, thinking I’d work on the intro after, but that didn’t help. Those blog posts came hard. Real hard. I agonized. I sweated. I stared at the page until my eyes were hollows in my head. (That theory about tortured writers? Yeah.)

I couldn’t write easily, and it felt like a dirty little secret. I suppose in some ways, it was. When you’re a problogger who owns a top ten blog for writers that’s all about writing and you write for a living to boot, the last thing you want to admit is that you can’t hack it. So I kept my problem to myself and pretended everything was fine.

Except that it wasn’t.

I’d gone from wizard to withering in no time flat. Had I lost my creativity? Did I need a writer’s recovery program Was I tapped out on blogging? Maybe that was the answer. I’d been blogging heavily for four years or so and surely I was just burnt out from writing so much on the same subject. Maybe I should write something different, and that would bring it all back.

That didn’t help. Those wildly irrelevant posts hit the trashcan quickly.

Maybe I was tired. That must be it! My sleep patterns were off, I wasn’t taking enough breaks, and I wasn’t feeding my muse either – I tend to forget that eating is a daily requirement. Some rest and healthy, scheduled meals would surely set me back on track!

Nope. And the stress of losing my muse was starting to get to me. The more I worried about being able to write, the less I could write. The less I could write, the more I worried about how long this would last. Not… not forever, surely?

I tried forcing myself to write. Every day. I worked hard at it, too. I put hours into blog posts that used to take me about 15 minutes. I agonized over words and impact, I had to think and edit and rewrite and overhaul and try again. Over and over and over.

I showed up for the job. Muse be damned.

No juice, no gas. So I blamed performance anxiety. I certainly had a good dose of it by now, knowing my blog posts weren’t up to snuff. Readers are frequently demanding, too. They often tell me – shamelessly and boldly, I might add – that my blog posts had better rock their socks off.

So I complained. “No wonder I can’t write! People have unrealistic expectations!” I felt readers wanted awesomesauce posts every day and stories that made kittens cry and how-tos of geniusly scientific proportions. Just James wasn’t what they wanted, and less-than-stunning wasn’t an option.

“This is stupid,” I muttered darkly to myself. “Why should I blog anyways? What’s this getting me? Nothing but stress!” I should close the blog, give up my career and walk away from it all.

Yeah. No. That was a stupid idea. That was just frustration talking. I knew I loved my blog, and I loved writing. Not being able to write blog posts without nearly making my skin bleed wasn’t anyone’s fault. The only expectations I have to meet in life are my own.

So I gave up. I’d had it with the internal struggle. I was done fighting with myself and forcing myself to do something that clearly wasn’t working. And truthfully, I didn’t really care anymore – I had enough blog posts banked up to cover my ass for a while. Screw it.

Then one day…

It started off slowly, cautiously, and quite by accident. I felt like writing something quirky, something fun. Something that wasn’t how-to or rocket science. Just… something simple. No pressure. Just James. 100 words. 174. 253. 376… say, this wasn’t so bad. Not bad at all. 522, 680… 768 words. And it wasn’t rocket science, but it was just fine.

Just James.

The next morning I looked at the blog post again with fresh eyes… and that’s when magic hit me. I could see what needed to be changed. I knew what to fix, how to word it, and where a sentence could be more concise or snappy. It was all there in front of me – because the truth was that I’d never forgotten how to write. That would always be with me.

I’d just forgotten that I could write, and write well, and write for myself, and that the only person preventing that from happening doing so was me.

Looking over that post was a little like revisiting the past. It reminded me of the usual style and tone I like to write with. The flair. The fast and snappy, the confidence and cockiness. I remembered what I loved about words. I remembered that I liked quipping little jokes and being casual. I remembered that when I was just writing, when I didn’t try to fit myself into a style that wasn’t me, everything came out easy.

And it came out good.

Rocket science? Award-winning material? The best in the world? Come on, no. There are much better writers out there. But I’m not here to write rocket science blog posts or win awards. If I do, great. If I don’t, that’s fine too. I’m here for me.

Is there some big lesson or how-to in this post? Nope, sorry. I haven’t quite figured out what happened that made me start to struggle with blogging, and I’m not entirely sure I understand why it all came back so quickly.

But what I do know is that everyone gets jammed sometimes – even the pro writers you look up to. And when that jam happens, it’s important to remember that no one forgets how to write well. It doesn’t disappear. It’ll always be there.

And maybe… Maybe you just have to say screw it and stop looking for it so hard.

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Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.