The Blank Page and Writers’ Block
By Jen Cornick
Everyday my cursor blinks at the top of a blank page. And lately, I have no idea what to do with it. If it were a blinking red light at an intersection, I would know what to do. Stop and wait for my turn. If it were the light on my internet router, I would reset it. If the light was blinking in my smoke detector, I would replace the battery. But I have no idea what to do with that infernal blinking cursor on my screen.
And it has been that way for some weeks now.
I am having what Jenn Ashworth calls a writer’s sulk. An epic one as it has lasted for weeks. And what we forget, writers everywhere and in every discipline, is how exhausting it is. How fatiguing and emotionally frustrating to confront failure day after day at the computer. In fact, I would say it is now a full-fledged writer’s block.
If you write, you will encounter this at some point. So how do we, as writers, work our way through one of the most frustrating, lonely, and isolative experiences you can have in this line of work?
I have had to revisit advice for this situation in recent days in order to make this blog a reality.
Work on Another Project
Patrice Lawerence, award-winning author of the book Orange Boy, said that she always pivots to another piece. It could be another novel she is working on, a short story, answers to interview questions, an idea for a phone app, or a pod cast. But she is always working on something.
And I can see her point. Watching words appear on the page after struggling with them for so long is almost magical. There is a sense of extraordinary accomplishment when I can write a sentence without deleting it.
However, that was how I started dealing with my writer’s sulk but that strategy isn’t working for me any longer. So, what else is there?
Just Show Up
Jenn Ashworth says that writing is like a relationship and you have to show up to it every day. In Making Time to Write, we talked about her strategies to find little bits of time in the day to write and sometimes that means running the spell checker counts if that is all there is time for. However, the same is true for writer’s block.
Rereading work, editing, and even running the spellcheck is a good way of keeping in touch with the piece. And sometimes, it can even inspire a new way forward as you find something that your brain did when you weren’t looking. Suddenly, a new path through the story opens and inspiration strikes with an ecstatic shock.
But then there are the days, when you have spent so long battling writer’s block and you just want to delete the whole project. There are at least three stories on my computer right now where the thought of rereading them again makes my fingers curl into my palms. A protective instinct, so that they do not fall victim to the delete button on my keyboard.
So, how can I deal with my writer’s block then?
Change the Scene
Our very own award-winning Keith Gray, author of The Climbers and Ostrich Boys, has often told me to change the scene. Which means that I need to leave my desk and go gather inspiration in the world outside. But it also means looking at something new. Whether it is taking a longer than usual route to the grocery store or just getting a coffee from a café you’ve never been to before, it is something different for your brain to process. New information for it to catalogue and file away. Sounds, smells, textures, even the way you respond to unfamiliar cracks in the sidewalk. All new.
It seems such a simple solution. But it is actually really hard to do. We develop routines. Humans are very good at finding the things we like, the ways that are easiest to get them, and repeating those patterns. Bad habits are difficult to break for a reason and good ones even harder to develop. So, forcing yourself to purposefully to take a new route to your favourite shop or stopping at a different bakery on your way to work can create enough of a disruption to break the habit of writer’s sulk.
But what if even that isn’t enough?
This is the piece of advice writers give to each other. It is in blogs, social media posts, newspaper articles, workshops, even fanfiction discord servers. When writers are in a sulk, we all turn to the work of others.
Reread your favourite books. Go to the bookstore or library and fond something entirely new. Read an author you have never heard of before. Sometimes, just seeing a page filled with words, good ones, is enough. But knowing the writer struggled just as hard as you do to get them on the page can be a galvanising comfort.
A new book can inspire new ideas. The reaction of a new character to an unexpected sight in their wardrobe can be what you need to push forward with your own work. Reliving how your favourite character set down her rival can round out the interaction you’ve been struggling with.
But what if that fails too?
Sunday Writers’ Club
Then I have two more suggestions for all of us. Attend a Sunday Writers’ Club session, online or in-person. The weekly menu of prompts can help you write a new piece. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be a piece you develop further. But they are your words on the page. They are so satisfying to see.
Become a member and you can join our discord server. It is where writers meet, connect, and help each other through these experiences that we are often left to deal with on our own, like writer’s sulks and blocks. Reaching out and realizing that you don’t have to come through it on your own is a remarkable feeling. I have met so many supportive friends through Sunday Writers Club and I have had to call more than a few of them up in the last few weeks.
Writers can be some of the best supports to each other during these processes, so come out and meet your fellow colleagues. Join us.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Reading is not my hobby, I am pretty sure it forms a vital part of my autonomic nervous system. I am never without a book and I will read anything, including cereal boxes. My journalism has appeared in Metropole: Vienna In English, Impact Hub Vienna, Ted x Vienna, and the EU Observer.
Find out more about Jennifer by visiting her blog: The Curiosity Cabinet
I love this – thank you very much for going over all your notes and pulling it together into something so helpful and coherent! Very useful.