Maybe it happened in high school when that essay analyzing Lord of the Flies stared you in the face and all you could contribute was a blinking cursor on a blank screen. Or perhaps it struck before you even set the pen on the paper to write your first novel. The idea was in your head and you had beautiful visions of the success you would reach–yet for one reason or another, writing the first words paralyzed you with fear.
Perhaps you’re a seasoned novelist who just can’t seem to meet your word count today. Or maybe you’re an article writer who has the idea but can’t find the flow to the words to make sense.
Whoever you are, as a writer, I know one thing for sure–the dreaded writer’s block has come for you at one point or another. It’s dug its sickly claws into your skin and, perched on your shoulder, shouted the lies all writers dread hearing.
You are not good enough.
You’ll never write anything worthy again.
You can’t do this.
And even though we know writer’s block is to be expected, sometimes, we let those lies become chanted truths in our minds, stunting our words further. We let writer’s block become the excuse keeping us from greatness, the wall between us and sharing our words.
As a writer, I myself have frequently found myself in a bout of writer’s block. I’ve read books about how to overcome it. I’ve taken the walks. I’ve tried just sitting down and writing. I’ve done all of the tips and tricks from the masters of the craft. Still, as the years have passed, I’ve realized that for me, there is one clear answer to breaking out of writer’s block. It isn’t an exercise regime or a magical equation. It’s, quite simply, a very basic question I ask myself.
The magical question with the power of the universe–or at least the power to break you out of writer’s block–is this:
What do you truly want to say?
That’s it. I know, you’re probably wondering why you read this article to get a basic question that really isn’t special. But the thing is, it is special–the power rests, however, in the reflection for yourself. What are you feeling called to say? Because if you focus on what your writing voice wants to spread into the world, I guarantee the block will be removed. If you focus on how magical it is that your words have the power to impact others and that you get the opportunity in writing to raise your voice, suddenly it doesn’t become paralyzing anymore. It becomes empowering.
Notice what the question isn’t. It isn’t:
The question is: What do you truly want to say? What is that thing on your heart plaguing you, the thing worth raising your voice for? What message is worth imparting to the universe?
I think this question can be tricky because sometimes it doesn’t seem to fit the writer’s mold we’re all placed into. We might be in the middle of a manuscript we or those in the industry are certain will be a screaming hit–and then writer’s block hits. We’re stuck in the plot, the characters aren’t working, and it all feels like trash. When this is happening, it might seem asinine to ask what we want to say. Because maybe what’s on our heart, what we want to say is about relationships or animals or how to do your eyeliner. Maybe it has nothing to do with the science fiction novel we’re trying to finish, which can make us feel guilty.
The thing is, despite all of the weight on your shoulders and the words of wisdom about how to tank your career, what you want to say should carry more weight. Giving power to the words on your heart is what re-ignites the writer’s spirit in your soul. It’s what gives you the inspiration and reminds you what writing is all about.
Sure, going viral is great and writing the best book of your career is also a plus. Furthermore, sometimes the dreaded deadline dictates that we sometimes write about things we aren’t exactly passionate about at the moment. Nonetheless, I think sometimes the pull of social media, marketing, and all the hats we have to wear as writers can detract from why we start writing in the first place–to raise our voices. To upend the words on our hearts and share them with the world in the hopes they might reach someone and impact them.
When you write from a place of passion, the writing becomes easier. Thus, even if you are on a deadline or in the middle of a novel when writer’s block strikes, I challenge you to set that piece aside. Maybe the problem isn’t that you are incapable of writing or that the words won’t flow. Perhaps the real problem is that there’s something else on your heart you want to say.
And when you write this thing, whatever it is, maybe it won’t even see the light of day. Maybe it’s just enough for you to get those words off your chest and onto the page. Maybe it’s enough to re-ignite your passion for words by simply reconnecting them with your heart and spirit.
In my high school writing class I teach, we talk a lot about the purpose of writing. I always start by asking my level one class: Why do we write?
I’ll often get textbook answers about how we write to persuade, entertain, and inform. These are true statements, of course, but I always push them further. Why do we really write? What’s the purpose?
Eventually, one of them will spew out something along the lines of: to make others feel something. That’s what I’m always looking for. Because whether you’re writing an article about technology, a Buzzfeed list, a fantasy novel, an article about a serious topic, or an essay about earthworms, your job as a writer is to make your reader feel something.
To do that well, I would argue that you, too, have to feel something.
So sometimes, when writing isn’t coming easy, we must ask ourselves: Am I honoring what’s on my heart? Am I writing in a way that says what I really want to say?
And if the answer is no, we sometimes must take time from our busy schedules to honor that. We must take time to write what we really want to say, even if it’s just for a moment. Only then, I would argue, can the block be lifted and we can write our way into our successes, whatever that may be.
Lindsay (L.A.) Detwiler is a USA Today Bestselling thriller author and high school English teacher. Her USA Today Bestseller, The Widow Next Door, is published with HarperCollins UK. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, their six rescue cats, and their Great Dane, Edmund, who appears in all of her current works.
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USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books