Writer's block, but not exactly

The term "writer's block" may refer to three kinds of inability:

1. You can't start a new piece of writing, even though you have an idea what you want to write about. In this case, the block comes from not being able to find a pathway for entering into the writing. The best cure for this writer's block is to start somewhere, anywhere, and write until you find your path.

2. You can't continue to write a piece you've already started. This may happen when you have some choices about how to develop the writing and cannot decide what to do next. It may also happen when you've got nothing more to say about your topic or thesis. This is harder to deal with, as you may need to go back and find the place where you got into a "dead end" and rewrite from that point on, forging a new direction.

3. You are simply stuck for any idea at all. This is the time to do something creative that's not writing. Listen to music, read a book, take a walk. Jog your brain into a new thought or two; from this, a new idea may form.

These are classic forms of writer's block, but there is another, even more pernicious form: editing as you write.

Imagine yourself writing--composing a written piece. You start with a phrase, but find it not perfect. You stare at it, trying to figure out why it's not pleasing. You do this for a few minutes, get discouraged, and delete the words you have just written. What have you got to show for your effort? Nothing.

Why would someone do this? It comes, I think, from not understanding the writing process.

You start with a first draft, not a finished piece!

Not allowing yourself to make a mess, to write sentences that are stiff or sloppy, to write paragraphs that are all over the map or so undeveloped that they barely express anything, means that you will never be able to pull out of yourself the seed of good writing, which is an idea.

It's the idea that's precious. The words are the vehicle to convey the idea, and here is one challenge in writing: the abundance of possibilities and the scarcity of originality.

The abundance of possibilities: there are so many words, and so many ways to organize sentences and paragraphs (in the English language, as an example), that the possibilities are endless. This can feel overwhelming.

But the huge universe of possibility is counterbalanced by a limitation: the scarcity of originality. Yes, there are many effective and colorful ways to combine words, but some of the best ways have been around so long that they are now cliches.

The writer is, then, faced with several challenges all at once:

1. Isolate the idea 

2. Develop the idea.

3. Express the idea in words that are freshly arranged in logical ways that any reader can follow.

Can you see that trying to write in perfect sentences the first time you write is adding an unbearable burden? You need to let your words pour out, messy and unbound, so that your ideas can see the light of day.

Then, after the heat of creation has cooled, you can read your sentences with a bit of perspective, evaluating how well they convey what has come from your mind. You can edit: rearrange words and sentences, note how the sentences relate to each other, find words that are less common and that better express the shades of meaning in your idea.

Avoid the not-exactly writer's block by trusting that your ideas are there, in your head, and that in the torrent of words that gush forth when you free your mind from the restraints of first-time perfection, you will find the raw material for the lovely, well-crafted sentences and paragraphs that will showcase your originality and insights.


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