Yesterday, a young writer I’m mentoring told me she’s never hated writing so much. She’s in the middle of writing a book and her once-fun “hobby” has become her nemesis. At each keystroke, writer’s block is threatening to stop her from writing her book for good.
Why We Suffer From Writer’s Block
There are a handful of reasons why writers struggle with writer’s block: perfectionism, procrastination, and fear of failure.
However, one of the causes that most writers don’t think about—until it hits them in the face—is apathy.
People often begin writing a book so they can have the ultimate bragging rights.
“Oh yeah, you’re a hot-shot litigator? Well, I’m an author! You have a Tesla. I wrote a book! Smell the pages and burn with envy!”
Unfortunately, bragging rights only work as a motivator for so long, and when things start to get tough, as they often do around chapter four, you need to find something more meaningful to motivate you.
Writers Must Have Meaning
Most people have heard of Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist, but Viktor Frankl, a student of Freud and fellow Austrian psychologist, is nearly as influential, if not as well known.
Frankl Jewish, and during World War II, he was captured by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz, where he was assigned to work on a suicide watch. Can you imagine trying to convince an inmate at a concentration camp not to kill themselves, perhaps someone whose whole family had already been executed?
However, Frankl was extraordinarily successful, and he discovered that even in the worst situations, even in the greatest suffering, people are capable of experiencing moments of joy, you could even call it bliss, if they have one, necessary thing.
The secret was Meaning.
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice,” wrote Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning.
Writing Lessons from Psychology
To my friend who was struggling to write her book, I told her something that’s probably obvious to you. No one said writing a book would be easy. In fact, the writing process almost necessitates mental and emotional suffering.
However, writing should never be meaningless. And if it is, then there’s a problem.
How do you find the meaning in writing? The best way I’ve found is to imagine who you’re writing for.
Are you writing for yourself?
- for bragging rights
- for the money
- for your own sense of self-importance
If you are, then you’ll likely find yourself struck with writer’s block and feeling apathetic about your writing.
Or are you writing for others?
- for your readers
- to bring someone hope, healing, peace
- to share who you are (warts and all) with the world
So? Who are you writing for? Feel free to share in the comments section.
Here’s the Trick to Break Writer’s Block
My advice to the writer who was struggling with writer’s block was to close her eyes and imagine her ideal reader, perhaps someone who was dealing with similar issues that she was writing about.
Imagine how your reader might feel as they read your story, I told her. Imagine them realizing for the first time that they aren’t alone. Imagine how their life could be changed by your book.
Then, when you write, try to write directly to that person. As you write each sentence, think about how you can write it in such a way as to create a deep connection with them.
Some writers even tape a picture to the side of their computer monitor so that when they get blocked, they can always look and see the reason their writing and hopefully be re-invigorated.
What If Your Writing Could Be Sacrificial
The reason why this works to free you from writer’s block is that it helps you focus on your reader’s needs, not your own pain.
What if it wasn’t about making your own name, about gaining bragging rights or making yourself feel important? What if the purpose behind it was sacrificial?
Perhaps next time you’re hit with writer’s block and experience the suffering side of writing, that feeling of frustration and confusion that often happens when we try to put words to our thoughts and experiences, perhaps you can realize that you’re not doing it for yourself.
You’re doing it for someone else.
Perhaps that will change your suffering into something much more meaningful, into sacrifice.
Who do you write for? Why is writing meaningful to you? Share in the comments section.
Close your eyes and imagine your ideal reader picking up your book. Imagine how they feel reading it, like someone finally understands them. Imagine the deep sense of connection they feel with you, with the world.
Then, open your eyes and write. Write that paragraph that will change their life.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to connect with a couple of other writers by giving them feedback in the comments.