Here you are, sitting in front of your computer. Finally! Finally you’ve found the time to focus on that blog, ad copy, or novel that’s been busting to break free from your brain for ages!
You open up your word processing software. A blank page appears. The cursor blinks eagerly, waiting for your input.
After taking a sip of coffee, you put your hands to the keyboard…and nothing comes.
The frustration hits immediately. Now the cursor looks like it’s taunting you, daring you to write anything. Anything at all.
But you can’t.
Writer’s block. Whether it’s the inability to grasp a single word, or to put a single word, any word, on a page, we’ve all experienced it.
For as long as humans have been writing, we have longed to understand why some days the words just don’t flow as easily as usual. In ancient times, we blamed the gods. Today, we’re more likely to blame it on a lack of inspiration, or even a lack of talent.
Psychiatrist Edmund Bergler, the man who coined the term “writer’s block”, saw it another way. In a paper based on two decades worth of research, he declared that the writer shares a similarity with psychoanalysts, as both “unconsciously try to solve his inner problems via the sublimatory medium of writing”. So he believed the block was a psychological one, capable of being dismantled through therapy alone.
It’s a concept that romanticises the image of the tortured writer, but fails to acknowledge those who struggle to write for reasons other than facing their demons.
Still, time would prove Bergler was on the right track. The answer was lurking in our brains all along.
In 1861, a French surgeon by the name of Paul Broca discovered a region of the brain directly related to our ability to form words. It wasn’t until over a century later, however, that researchers looked at this region – now known as Broca’s area, to determine its role in the creative process.
A major study was conducted to determine how the brain reacted when subjects were asked to produce creative or uncreative stories based on words spoken to them by researchers.
When asked to write a creative story, it was found that brain activity increased not just in Broca’s Area, but in other sections that governed memory, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex, the region that allows the brain to make associations between otherwise unconnected concepts.
What that suggests is that writer’s block is not entirely associated with a writer’s ability to form words, but their neurological functions as a whole. That might sound like an even bigger problem, but here’s the good news: some simple tips have been discovered that makes optimising these functions a whole lot easier!
1) Surround Yourself in Creativity
Talk to people about your ideas, and expose yourself to other creative work. Research shows this proves extremely effective so long as you don’t let it become an excuse to procrastinate, and that you don’t rely solely on creative people in your immediate field. It’s the variety in thinking that best stimulates your creative potential.
2) Use Your Momentum
When you get going, don’t stop, and definitely do not look back.
You’ll have your chance to edit and improve later on. To concern yourself with perfectionism is to give way to what Anne Lamott, writer of Bird by Bird, called “the voice of the oppressor…it will keep you cramped and insane your whole life”.
3) Schedule Your Creative Time
Of these three tips, this is the most important.
Writer’s block is the result of shifts in your brain, so being able to predict and avoid them is crucial.
No two creators structure their day exactly the same, so don’t think emulating your idols is the solution. Just find out what works for you, and stick with it.
There is no one solution for writer’s block, but if you follow these tips, you’ll find it much easier to get writing the next time you put fingers to keys.