Tag Archives: writing

Writer’s Block & How to clear it.

Let’s start with, what is writer’s block?

Well, I just sat down to write this post, and now I can’t think of a single darn thing to say. Oh well, I’m outta here!

Even if this particular situation doesn’t sound familiar to you, we’ve all experienced the phenomenon of absolutely intending to sit down and write something, usually driven by a work project, school assignment, or personal-deadline that we have imposed upon ourself, when! Uh, I can’t think of what the word is. . . oh, yes, it’s on the tip of my tongue . . . it’s:


Whew! I feel so much better just getting that out of my head
and onto the page!

Writer’s block is the patron demon of the blank page.
You may think you know EXACTLY what you’re going to
write, but as soon as that evil white screen appears before you, your mind suddenly goes completely blank. And I’m not just talking about the Zen meditation stare-at-the-wall-until-enlightenment-hits kind of blankness.

I’m talking about sweat trickling down the back of your neck, anguish, panic, and suffering that takes hold of you so tight until the closer the deadline, self-imposed or otherwise, the worse the anguish of writer’s block gets.

Having said that, let me say it again. “The tighter the deadline, the worse the anguish of writer’s block gets.” Now, can you figure out what might possibly be the cause of this horrible plunge into speechlessness?

The answer is obvious: FEAR! You are terrified of that blank page. You are terrified that you have absolutely nothing of value to say. You are afraid of the fear of writer’s block itself!

It doesn’t necessarily matter if you’ve done a decade of research and all you have to do is string sentences you can repeat in your sleep together into coherent paragraphs. Writer’s block can strike anyone at any time. Based in fear, it raises our doubts about our own self-worth, but it’s sneaky. It’s writer’s block, after all, so it doesn’t just come and let you know that. No, it makes you feel like an idiot who just had your frontal lobes removed through your sinuses. If you dared to put forth words into the greater world, they would surely come out as gibberish!

Let’s try and be rational with this irrational demon. Let’s make a list of what might possibly be beneath this terrible and terrifying condition.

  1. Perfectionism. You must absolutely produce a masterpiece of literature with your first draft. Otherwise, you qualify as a complete failure.
  2. Editing instead of composing with writer’s block seated firmly on your shoulder, yelling as soon as you type “I was born?,” no, not that, that’s wrong! That’s stupid! Fix it, fix it, fix it!
  3. Self-consciousness. How can you think, let alone write, when all you can manage to do is pry the fingers of writer’s block away from your throat enough so you can gasp in a few shallow breaths? You’re not focusing on what you’re trying to write, you’re focusing on those gnarly fingers around your windpipe.
  4. Can’t get started. It’s always the first sentence that’s the hardest. As writers, we all know how EXTREMELY important the first sentence is. It must be brilliant! It must be unique! It must hook your reader’s from the start! There’s no way we can get into writing the piece until we get past this impossible first sentence.
  5. Shattered concentration. You’re cat is sick. You
    suspect your mate is cheating on you. Your electricity
    might be turned off any second. You have a crush on
    the local UPS deliveryman. You have a dinner party
    planned for your in-laws. You . . . Need I say more.
    How can you possibly concentrate with all this mental
  6. Procrastination. It’s your favorite hobby. It’s
    your soul mate. It?s the reason you’ve knitted 60
    argyle sweaters or made 300 bookcases in your garage
    workshop. It’s the reason you never run out of Brie.


How to Overcome Writer’s Block

Okay. I can hear that herd of you running away from
this article as fast as you can. Absurd! you huff.
Never in a million years, you fume. Writer’s block is
absolutely, undeniably, scientifically proven to be
impossible to overcome.

Oh, just get over it! Well, I guess it’s not that
easy. So try to sit down for just a few minutes and
listen. All you have to do is listen ? you don’t have
to actually write a single word.

Ah, there you all are again. I am beginning to make
you out now that the cloud of dust is settling.

I am here to tell you that WRITER’S BLOCK CAN BE

Please, remain seated.

There are ways to trick this nasty demon. Pick one,
pick several, and give them a try. Soon, before you
even have a chance for your heartbeat to accelerate,
guess what? You’re writing.

Here are some tried and true methods of overcoming
writer’s block:

  1. Be prepared. The only thing to fear is fear itself.
    (I know, that’s a clich?but as soon as you start
    writing, feel free to improve on it.) If you spend
    some time mulling over your project before you
    actually sit down to write, you may be able to
    circumvent the worst of the crippling panic.
  2. Forget perfectionism. No one ever writes a
    masterpiece in the first draft. Don’t put any
    expectations on your writing at all! In fact, tell
    yourself you’re going to write absolute garbage, and
    then give yourself permission to happily stink up your
    writing room.
  3. Compose instead of editing. Never, never write your
    first draft with your monkey-mind sitting on your
    shoulder making snide editorial comments. Composing is
    a magical process. It surpasses the conscious mind by
    galaxies. It’s even incomprehensible to the conscious,
    editorial, monkey-mind. So prepare an ambush. Sit down
    at your computer or your desk. Take a deep breath and
    blow out all your thoughts. Let your finger hover over
    your keyboard or pick up your pen. And then pull a
    fake: appear to be about to begin to write, but
    instead, using your thumb and index finger of your
    dominant hand, flick that little annoying ugly monkey
    back into the barrel of laughs it came from. Then jump
    in ? quickly! Write, scribble, scream, howl, let
    everything loose, as long as you do it with a pen or
    your computer keyboard.
  4. Forget the first sentence. You can sweat over that
    all-important one-liner when you’ve finished your
    piece. Skip it! Go for the middle or even the end.
    Start wherever you can. Chances are, when you read it
    over, the first line will be blinking its little neon
    lights right at you from the depths of your
  5. Concentration. This is a hard one. Life throws us
    so many curve balls. How about thinking about your
    writing time as a little vacation from all those
    annoying worries. Banish them! Create a space, perhaps
    even a physical one, where nothing exists except the
    single present moment. If one of those irritating
    worries gets by you, stomp on it like you would an
    ugly bug!
  6. Stop procrastinating. Write an outline. Keep your
    research notes within sight. Use someone else’s
    writing to get going. Babble incoherently on paper or
    on the computer if you have to.

Just do it! (I know, I stole that line from
somewhere?). Tack up anything that could possibly help
you to get going: notes, outlines, pictures of your
grandmother. Put the cookie you will be allowed to eat
when you finish your first draft within sight ? but
out of reach. Then pick up the same type of writing
that you need to write, and read it. Then read it
again. Soon, trust me, the fear will slowly fade away.
As soon as it does, grab your keyboard ? and get

The Teachings of Musashi Miyamoto

Artical ArtworkI was just introduced to an extraordinary piece of literature entitled The Book of Five Rings by Musashi Miyamoto–a 16th century samurai warrior. In the book, Miyamoto discusses the way of the warrior and how to live one’s life as a samurai would–with distinction, control, and thirst for knowledge in all things. Despite the fact that many of Miyamoto’s teachings are intended to prepare one to become a fierce samurai warrior, many of his principles can be applied to our own lives.

He emphasizes the concept of trying to become knowledgeable in all things, not just “the way of the sword”, for we can apply all things to that which we strive most towards. Miyamoto says that if a person wants to become proficient swordsman, he must not only practice swordsmanship, but also guitar and commerce. Why? Because playing the guitar teaches rhythm, and commerce teaches aggression and tactics–traits which are necessary tools for a samurai. This is also why a scientist should study art, and an artist should study science. The scientist will learn how to see the beauty in life and its processes, and an artist will learn to appreciate the order and logic of science. Although Miyamoto says that attaining all knowledge is impossible–and I’m sure we all know this as well–we should never stop striving for that perfection. We should never stop our search for knowledge.

A quote that really stood out to me in the first part of The Book of Five RingsThe Book of Earth, was the following: “By keeping at a particular form of study a man can attain perfection either in this life or the next (if a next life is believed in). The warrior, however, understands that the end result of any study is a kind of death (sublime, not necessarily physical) before the attainment of perfection.” What does this mean? It can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, but to me this means that true perfection is unattainable because it is, in itself,  a sort of death. You can never know every little detail of that which you seek to gain knowledge of. Strive for it, yes, but don’t expect to ever get it–that’s not cynicism, that’s truth. Be content that the world is too big for you to ever know in its entirety and hope that the next generation will discover the secrets you couldn’t. Although we’d like to, we can’t be all-knowing, and with this acceptance comes a sort of serenity. There’s no more rush to know everything and beat everyone. You’re out of the rat race watching everyone else scuttle about for what you now know to be an impossibility.

We are not higher or lower than anyone else, we just are. Knowing this, we should make the best of our lives and learn as much as we can–not being boastful or condescending due to our acquired knowledge. Miyamoto’s writings teach us to be both a participant and observer of life–the latter of which I think some of us, myself included, forget to do sometimes.

Below is Musashi Miyamoto’s The Way of Walking Alone–a piece written one week prior to Musashi’s death.

1. Accept everything just the way it is.
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honor.
21. Never stray from the Way.

Although I did not initially agree with each and every tenet listed above, I can now say I understand why one should follow these “rules” in their own lives. These are very much Buddhist notions and it all boils down to this simple concept: desire is the source of all pain. Want for nothing and “accept everything just the way it is” and you will never be disappointed–that’s the idea at least. That’s easier said than done, but it’s this concept that’s important for us to take away from Musashi’s Way. I don’t think I can follow the Way as it was intended to be followed, because my desires are too strong to be stopped at this point. Pain is inevitable for me, as it is for many others, but I will not regret the things I’ve done and I won’t say I’m sorry for the past. The past is gone, now all I can do is live in the present and look to the future. That, in its simplest form, is the way of the warrior.