Focusing on your own writer’s block

By | November 4, 2011

I was about to begin by writing, “we’ve all had writers block at one time or another,” and then I thought better. Besides being bad writing, reason enough to start over, that sentence presupposes that writer’s block is not supremely personal, a solitary experience that can’t be made relevant to any other’s malady. Anxiety attacks are likely a first cousin if not a sibling to that invisible barrier between the act of writing and the writer’s own psyche, and successfully grappling with one disorder can offer parallels in overcoming another.

That awful feeling of intense, yet vague dread, frequently with physical symptoms, quickly becomes self-perpetuating for either writer’s block or anxiety. When your work or studies depend upon your ability to produce written text, such as newspaper reporters or students attending an online university, this potentially debilitating disorder can spell disaster

As a college student in my mid-twenties, I began experiencing frequent, acute anxiety attacks. I was relatively happy, pursuing a bachelor’s degree and working in a job I enjoyed and had no more troubles than most, and in fact, relatively speaking, I had fewer problems than many. Again, none of that mattered to my unwelcomed guest.

Natures of the beasts

While anxiety and writer’s block have many similarities, knowing the features of these conditions that don’t overlap is instructive when considering ways to rise above either. Anxiety attacks stem from free-floating, often irrational fears that commonly defy attempts to articulate by a person experiencing symptoms. Writer’s block, on the other hand, is believed to stem from the ill effects of some inner critic developed from external sources from the person’s formative experiences. What is important to note, though, is the shared difficulty in both instances for the sufferer – and that’s truly an accurate term for anyone who has experienced either or both – of not being able to identify any one source of the problem. The good news is that overcoming either writer’s block or anxiety attacks don’t necessarily rely on knowing that source.

Turn and face the problem

For over a year, I would suddenly feel the onset of an attack. With no discernible trigger, I could feel the tingling announcing hyperventilation. At times, limbs would become weighty to the point I questioned their ability to function. Not surprisingly, I found that my schoolwork was becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish my written work. Quite by accident, though, I stumbled upon my own relief for both issues.

One morning, that familiar dread began again. In the past, my own fears fueled each attack, and presumably, every subsequent one. This time, however, my writer’s curiosity began to concentrate on each symptom. Over time, focusing on my anxiety with interest rather than distress had an unexpected, yet noticeable effect. By embracing the symptoms, my attacks became less frequent, less intense and then finally extinguished. I applied a similar bend to my writing block—again spurred on by that wonder of intrigue I suspect is fairly common among all writers.

I’ve since found articles that echo my own actions, but I’ll claim my own actions as independent at the time. Virtually unable to write my school papers at the time, I began simply journaling my own writer’s block. From free association to a stream of consciousness—I wrote, and I wrote. I wrote so much about my own writer’s block that I soon began to stray in my focus–to my coursework. Call it a trick, but the more I wrote about my writer’s block, the less frequently it occurred. While it became a standard pre-writing exercise to journal my block, after a few weeks my practice evolved into merely recalling the last time I experienced writer’s block, after which I wrote my assignments without fail.

Exorcising your doubts

Just as fear-based disorders are very personal, they all share the unwelcomed pairing of you and your symptoms. Trying to ignore or distance yourself from writer’s block tends to only stoke the problem. Using your skills as a writer, your innate wonder that makes you believe you have something worth saying in words, and your willingness to face your problem makes for a pretty potent remedy. Journaling about your writing blog may not work for everyone, but it’s a proactive means of taking charge of your issue.

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