Saturday, September 23, 2023

Writers sometimes struggle silently


Daimler Koch, a junior at Van Nuys High School in California, writes in the student newspaper that, “More often now than ever, I find myself staring at a blank screen.” He says he’s struggling with writer’s block in his journalism and AP English classes.

One thing I have tried myself when searching for words and sentences to type is to invent an imaginary friend or a student I’m trying to teach and explain the subject I’m writing about to that imaginary person.

Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who solved Fermat’s last theorem and received a MacArthur genius grant, once said in a PBS interview that if you want to understand the difference between what’s essential and what doesn’t matter, try to explain it to an 8-year-old. Of course, he was talking about his own kids, but any child or imaginary child will do.

Explaining something to a child often puts words in your mouth, and then the trip from there to your keyboard is smoother because you will have cut the fat out of the material or subject.

Alice EM Underwood, writing for Grammarly, also trusts the technique of starting a conversation with a random stranger or getting an imaginary friend. Her other tips include shaking up your routine or pulling in other sensory input, say, by going to a bakery and inhaling the aromas or listening to some weird Kurdish disco beats. If there’s no bakery nearby, try candles.

Although many writers have published strategies for pushing through writer’s block, many psychologists don’t believe the phenomenon exists.

Steven Pritzker, PhD, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Creativity (2011) and a former TV show writer, says that what’s known as writer’s block is an “artificial construct that basically justifies a discipline problem. A commitment to a regular work schedule will help you overcome barriers like perfectionism, procrastination, and unrealistic expectations.”

If that’s the case, though, and you truly are struggling to get the words down on paper, you should be able to force yourself to buckle down and write without letting the fear that what you write has to be perfect paralyze you. Set a writing schedule, stick to it, and get something on the page.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


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