“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Margaret Atwood
We’ve all been there: The blank sheet of paper taunts us. The pen turns into a torture device, moving so lethargically across the page that forming each letter becomes a grueling and laborious task. The Word document floats in the middle of our desktop, blank and depressingly empty. No sound of fingers clicking on the keyboard, no words filling up the empty page. It’s writer’s block. Lack of inspiration. The crippling state in which the words stop flowing and the doubt starts surging.
Some of history’s most celebrated scribes have been gripped with writer’s block (a term coined by a psychologist in the early 1950s). Ernest Hemingway called a blank sheet of paper the most frightening thing he’s ever encountered. Hemingway’s fellow 1920s writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and iconic cartoonist Charles M. Schultz have both described, often through painstaking words and images, their affliction with writer’s block. And in Stephen King’s quintessential horror novel, The Shining, character Jack Torrance suffers from such a severe case of writer’s block that he has a complete mental breakdown. (If you’ve read the novel, or seen the movie, you know where that leads.)
A lack of inspiration can be debilitating, crippling and downright discouraging for even the most brilliant wordsmith. But what is writer’s block, anyway? And why does the writer get a free pass? How would we react if our doctor told us he or she couldn’t find the inspiration to perform our surgery, or if our interior decorator said she couldn’t find the flash of genius needed to help her figure out which patterns and fabrics to pair in our living room?
As creative creatures, it’s difficult to cope when the inspiration doesn’t come to us. But here’s the thing: crying writer’s block doesn’t do a thing to help you. When the going gets tough, the best thing you can do is keep writing. Don’t think about how poor or unpolished your words sound; don’t go searching for perfection; refuse to stop writing. Set aside time to write every day, and stick to your routine even on days when the romance is nowhere to be found.
The next time you just can’t find inspiration, let Gertrude Stein’s words unblock you:
“To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” Writer’s block only exists if you let it.