This Thing We Call Writer’s Block

I once heard a writer say that he never gets writer’s block; he claims he always has ideas. Maybe I am misinterpreting what this author was saying, but I can’t help but disagree with what I think his meaning was. Aside from sounding highly pretentious, he didn’t seem to totally understand what exactly writer’s block is—at least by my definition of writer’s block (which may or may not be accurate).

While a traditional definition claims that writer’s block is a lack of ideas, I don’t think that this is truly what writer’s block is. While this definition captures the essence of what writer’s block is, it misses all of the nuances.

We all have ideas all the time. It’s simply a matter of finding an idea to fit the situation. Sure, I can think of an interesting character, but that’s not helpful as an essay topic for a research paper. Or sure, I’ve got a great research paper idea, but that doesn’t help me come up with a scene that fits what I’m trying to write.

Writer’s block is a matter of not having the right idea at the right time. It’s a matter of having a brilliant thought in the shower that doesn’t fit any of your current projects.

A solution? My solution consists of two parts. One: trying to frantically remember all of my ideas. And two: having a notepad on my desk, by my bed, using a notepad app on my phone and laptop that syncs between the two devices so I can keep track of ideas whether I have them on the go or sitting at my desk, and using digital sticky notes on my laptop. Truly, the key is making it as easy as possible to record thoughts when they strike. And if all else fails, try to remember it to record it later.

Per recording methods, do whatever will be easiest. If you always have your phone on you, then make a voice recording app or a note-taking app accessible from your home screen (the key is making it convenient). Or take Anne Lamott’s advice that she gives in her book Bird by Bird and carry index cards around with you. Or maybe you have a journal or a notebook.

There’s no right way. Really, it’s a mad scramble for all in the race to keep up with neurons and the messages they transport.

The real problem is not ideas. It’s the timing of the ideas.

Writer’s block is conquerable—at least in part—by recording ideas to use later when they will be useful (not to say that an idea in itself isn’t useful). Or to look at it another way, ideas become more manageable by using them to overcome writer’s block.

This is the original (non-cropped and unfiltered) version of the photo that I used.