When You Feel Blocked

So many students ask me about writer’s block and how I write so much every day. When I tell them that I rarely struggle with writer’s block, they just can’t believe it. Most students tell me how every sentence feels like wading through molasses. They don’t have ideas. They don’t know what to write. They can’t even begin. And even if they had a thought, they don’t want anyone to see it on paper.

It’s all blocked. Everything is blocked up inside.

I can help. I firmly believe that most of what we call writer’s block is about shame. It’s about the fear of audience rejection. When an artist internalizes a hostile or mocking audience, she freezes up inside. Everything she thinks or writes seems unintelligent, banal, and unoriginal. She uses backspace and delete because it’s just so bad. It’s just so terrible. 

But what if she internalized an accepting, loving, eager audience who couldn’t wait to see what she produces? What if she changed the shame response into one of intimacy and acceptance and vulnerability that an audience rewards with love and connection?

That’s why I spend so much time on community building and name games designed to build authenticity and vulnerability. That’s why I ask students questions that might embarrass them (like confessing the worst song they ever loved or the movie they’re embarrassed they love so much) so they can practice disarming the shame affect.

Just make of fool of yourself–in writing and otherwise–so you’ll realize that you’re not fooling anyone anyway. The real you probably isn’t some genius, original, always inspiring artist, and that’s OK. Send what you think out into the world, and practice your art over and over again without fear.

Keep your loving and accepting audience right in front of you at all times, and see if the writing doesn’t flow more easily.

(PS: Here are two photos from my fun photo shoot on campus)

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3 thoughts on “When You Feel Blocked

  1. Oh I loved this! I was just sitting here wanting to write about something, but was thinking how weird people may think I am for being interested in the subject or what I might say about it. Or that it might be too “out there”. After coming across this post, I think I have a little more confidence in myself to write what I'm thinking. Thank you again Heather. *hugs*

  2. And I love your observation about writers block. Reflecting back I think you are right – when I struggle with writing it's because I'm assuming that the people who will be reading it won't like it (and then they won't like me!) I'm going to practice being aware of this going forward. It's grant writing season so there will be lots of opportunities to practice!

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