I Don’t Know What To Write

I am a better writer on a deadline. Plain and simple, when the clock is ticking and there is no other option than to write, ideas just seem to flow through my mind into my fingers and my thoughts appear on my computer screen as a beautiful, well-crafted essay. On the contrary, when I have all the time in the world to write my essay, I never seem to think of anything to write about. I can sit for hours on end just to come up with the initial idea to begin writing my masterpiece. When time is no issue and there are endless opportunities for story direction and all the different ways to present them, I know I’ll be sitting for a while, but I don’t know why. Free time also allows us to acknowledge the possibility of overthinking and getting stuck with not knowing what to write about, a concept known as Writer’s Block.

What is the cause of writer’s block and how can we avoid it in order to write quickly and more efficiently? According to the article “Blocked”, written by an anonymous author in the New Yorker magazine, writer’s block is caused by the pressures that writers are faced with. The article was published in a section of the magazine named “A Critic at Large”, this section is where authors write “Cultural essays and reviews examining television, books, theatre, movies, and music.” The article stresses the point that writers are put under stress and are pressured to masterpieces all the time. This makes them feel that if they don’t write a perfect paper, they will lose everything. This is why oftentimes authors experience Writer’s Block — they are too scared to begin, or do not know where to begin, writing — and thus lose touch of the creative process.

In the article “Blocked”, the author gives examples of several legendary writers who started their careers off by writing masterpieces. However, as the hype from their initial writings died down, they struggled their entire lives to create a story that was better than the original. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a fantastic novel, “The Great Gatsby”, at a young age and spent the rest of his life trying to come up with something new, but it never came. He succumbed to serious alcoholism and died young. Another example of an author who suffered from chronic writer’s block was Ernest Hemmingway, a very famous writer who spent the majority of his years depressed, as an alcoholic and eventually committed suicide. “Writer Ernest Hemingway dodged bullets as a war correspondent, fought bulls in Spain, and hunted big game in Africa-but when asked to name the scariest thing he ever encountered, he answered, ‘A blank sheet of paper.’” The author described it as such: “Poets, in their youth, begin in gladness but thereof come in the end despondency and madness.”

Back in High School, I learned that the best way to deal with a moment of writer’s block is to just start. Just like the author talked about in “Blocked”, I would sit down and feel as though I would have to produce an A grade paper the first time writing. I found a way to get around this though. I would just forget writing structure and perfect sentences and began writing everything that was on my mind regarding the project, then just simply tweak the paper to create my final product. However, the ability for this to work depends on the confidence in your ability as a writer. You must not be afraid of failure, you have to forget about grades for a few hours and instead direct all your focus towards crafting an awesome piece of writing.

Similarly, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, an associate professor of English and Women’s Studies and Director of Penn State’s Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing, discusses her experiences dealing with students suffering from writer’s block in the article “Is Writer’s Block Real”. She defines writer’s block as “A temporary inability to begin or continue a writing project due to fear, anxiety or lack of inspiration.”

One book that I found for my research on the psychological causes of writer’s block was a very well written piece titled “Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension”, written by Mike Rose. This was a very in-depth, well-researched and well-written book that analyzes the root causes of writer’s block and how to overcome the crippling academic hindrance. The author, Mike Rose, is a very qualified writer. He is a graduate of Loyola University, University of Southern California, and the University of California, Los Angeles and is currently a professor at UCLA. Rose has written several books on the subject of language, literacy, and cognition.

I only studied pieces of the entire book, but it was nonetheless very informative. Mike Rose starts off by defining writer’s block and then moves onto discussing the psychological evidence behind it, and then by providing case studies that he researched to assess his view on writer’s block, and then eventually provides a solution to the problem. Mike Rose defines writer’s block as the “inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than a lack of skill or commitment” which is measured by “passage of time with limited productive involvement in the writing task.” I agree with his definition of writer’s block because my own definition would be something very similar to what Mike Rose described: writer’s block is the inability to focus and come up with an appropriate idea to write about.

In his study, Rose also discusses the idea of “dynamic nominalism”. This psychological phenomenon first studied and noted by the philosopher Ian Hacking, says that once you invent a category, people will sort themselves into it, behave according to the description, and thus contrive new ways of being. Or in other words, the writer’s block is just us as writer’s facing a lack of motivation when faced with a problem.

Writer’s Block is a common reason writer’s give for losing their desire to write, but there is another secret as to why we experience it. To be hindered by Writer’s Block, you must first believe it exists. When you are sitting and staring at a blank page, unsure of what to write about, you tend to tell yourself that you are just suffering from writer’s block as a means of justifying procrastination. According to Mike Rose’s research, Writer’s Block is just an excuse for a time such as this, not a reality.

The Harvard University publication, “The Brains Behind Writer’s Block”, discusses the story of Harvard psychologist Dr. Alice Flaherty. Flaherty went through a very emotional period of her life where she had a miscarriage of twin children, and she had so much on her mind that she couldn’t stop writing. Similarly, the next year she gave birth to two healthy twin girls and she had an irresistible urge to write about everything that was piling up in her brain. She couldn’t do anything but write. Flaherty hypothesized that writing and not being able to write came from interactions between changes in specific areas of the brain. Essentially, Dr. Flaherty thought that the difference between suffering from writer’s block and writing was a matter of making the correct brain connections. Through her research, she found that creativity — specifically that related to original ideas and writing — is stimulated in a part of the brain called the temporal lobe, the same part of the brain that controls emotions.

Studies such as that conducted by Alice Flaherty have shown that the drive to write is heavily influenced by moods. The more strongly you feel about something, the more creative you will be and the easier it will become to write. However, if you feel no emotions towards the subject at hand, you will get stuck and creativity will be hindered and you will not know what to write about. Studies have shown that the drive to write is heavily influenced by moods. The more strongly you feel about something, the more creative you will be and the easier it will become to write. However, if you feel no emotions towards the subject at hand, you will get stuck and will not know what to write about. From the evidence provided from this article, I believe that one way to get around writer’s block would be to establish some stake in your writing. Actually, start caring about what you are writing, establish an opinion and let your emotions stimulate creativity and you will avoid writer’s block.

Writer’s block is caused by societal pressures to produce results. Ever since our first spelling test as first graders, we were told that our writing has to be perfect or else we would be failures. The reason we experience writer’s block is that we spend so much time mulling over the perfect topic to write about, that we get stuck and confused and find it extremely difficult to begin in the first place. Writer’s block is my inability to decide what I want to write. It is when I want to be perfect but I can’t decide what that is. Maybe because nothing is really perfect and for everything that exists there is always something that is better, always something to improve on. As Mark Twain said:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

So stop thinking and start writing. No pressure, you got this.

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or message me if you have any questions. Learn more about me at my website.

writing about life, culture, and technology.

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