Updated: Mar 6
The aspiring writer stares at the blank page ahead of them. The sheer emptiness which once seemed so full of possibility taunts them, and the words that once rushed forth like water from a seemingly inexhaustible font of inspiration has gone dry. Though the body of the writer may be silent and motionless, a battle rages inside their creative mind.
The battle to overcome the dreaded Writer's Block.
But what is a writer to do when the only weapon against their foe—Inspiration—has left them high and dry?
For some, the quick answer appears simple: sit down at the blank page and don't get up until something's written down. While this may help when it comes to the mechanical side of writing and the seemingly root issue of getting words out onto the page, struggling to write without inspiration doesn't teach the creative mind how to be inspired: in fact, it does the reverse.
Powering through a block teaches the mind that writing is difficult and a chore, something meant to be overcome via sheer determination and effort rather than an exercise in pouring out the thoughts and feelings begging to be expressed. Rather than a cure for Writers Block, this only kicks the can further down the road like applying an external balm to soothe skin-deep lesions while an even more insidious cancer flourishes deeper inside.
Eventually, powering through will cease to work. Words may make it onto the page, but they will feel colorless and void without the inspired insight of the truly creative process. At this point, Writer's Block will have the aspiring writer in a stranglehold that, for some, becomes insurmountable.
But what else can a writer do? What effective tools are there for ridding oneself of Writer's Block and nurturing the Inspiration that is its true cure? The idea of harnessing the fleeting muse at first seems laughable: muses by definition cannot be given orders, and fleeting Inspiration is the proof of their meandering through a creator's mind.
True, Inspiration and the muses cannot be harnessed through brute force, and those who try to do so invariably fail in the pursuit.
However, what one can do, is make a habit of inviting the muses—of inviting Inspiration—to visit. In doing so, one can make a habit of Inspiration and know when to expect its call. At this point, an aspiring writer can stop chasing Inspiration and can start enjoying the process of channeling it instead.
Setting the stage for inspiration's visit isn't one-size-fits-all, and results are anything but instantaneous. They require work and dedication to ensuring one's mind is fertile ground for seeds of Inspiration to take root. At the end of the day, it's all about making good habits and breaking deleterious ones before even getting to the point of sitting down before the empty page. Below are two techniques that, while powerful alone, can be a consistently creative person's tour de force in combination.
Imagine you're a muse looking for a place to put up your laurels and rest: will you be drawn to a home that's a cluttered and chaotic mess of broken furnishings and rotten food, or one that's welcoming and tidy with a meticulously prepared spread and ample seating?
This metaphorical home, of course, is the creative mind.
For some, the biggest thing getting in the way of Inspiration is the endless onslaught of distractions and thoughts resulting in a frazzled and distracted state of mind. Even if the muse would visit, their passing through may go unnoticed, the mind too busy with managing other tasks to even greet its quiet guest. Eventually, the ignored muse may stop visiting altogether.
Meditation—an act that requires nothing aside from a quiet ten or fifteen minutes—teaches the mind to sort away distracting thoughts and prepare itself to receive a visit from Inspiration. Getting into the habit of meditation prior to writing creates an inviting space for Inspiration to rest, and allows the mind to notice the muse's visit in the form of the few thoughts that bubble to the surface.
Inspiration to some is quiet, and meditation trains the mind to hear its gentle murmurings. It teaches the desperate writer that writing need not be a frantic pursuit of a fleeting sometimes-comrade, but that it can be a protracted time spent with a friend who has no other errands aside from a relaxed conversation with you.
The Road Less Traveled
When inspiration fails and Writer's Block sets in, another knee-jerk reaction of creators of all stripes is to retrace their steps as if in doing so they'll find their Inspiration again like they'd find a set of misplaced keys. However, Inspiration isn't some item lost along one's path: it's the experience of traveling the path itself. That path as it's traveled by a writer isn't a paved one that's sturdy and easily traversed: that easy road belongs to others. The path traveled by the writer is more like fresh snow.
Stepping once out into the snowpack leaves behind a clear footprint etched in the snow, its many fine grooves and contours rendered in exact detail. Stepping twice in the same place alters that shape, further compressing the snow and leaving behind a different tread that's mangled and completely unlike the first. Just like Inspiration, freshly fallen snow can only be reshaped and compressed so many times before it loses its malleability. At that point, a smooth and featureless path is formed that, while easily traveled, loses the allure of that inspiring first step into freshly fallen snow.
As such, a creator can never be truly content by doing the same things day in and day out. Writers who double back and perform the same activities in search of "recreating Inspiration" won't find that same spark by revisiting an old haunt: what they need is to continually be expanding their horizon, continually walking out into that vast expanse of snow in search of new sights, new sounds, new lands, and fresh Inspiration.
Rather than writing a story about a character whose passion is reading books in their vast personal library (a dream that many writers only wish was their reality) and who yearns to be a successful author, break free and explore beyond the obvious: nothing is off limits to someone who's in search of Inspiration (something that a creator's search history can definitely attest to). Stop saying "no" to unlikely invitations, and seek out new knowledge and sources of Inspiration with your own two hands:
Ride a horse for the first time, and be inspired to create a character who does the same.
Instead of watching fights on television, learn a martial art and become better acquainted with the way the body moves and what it feels like to train and fight firsthand.
Need inspiration for foods your characters might encounter on their travels? Cook something from scratch to understand the ingredients and process, and savor the tastes and smells, putting them into words as best you can so that you can give your characters more than "cheeses, dried meats, and bread" on their journey.
People-watching via volunteer work. You may not have the skills to do a particular job, but volunteering can put you in one-on-one contact with some of the most experienced and generous people your community has to offer and can get you an inside look at any number of industries. A person can research construction techniques online all day, but nothing beats working with a retired master mason who volunteers with habitat for humanity and is more than willing to teach people who show interest in their art and skills.
Heading down the untraveled road of course means expecting to encounter the unexpected: a creator may not learn what they hoped they would, and the story a writer once wanted to write may not mesh with their firsthand experience. But even that difference can bring about new revelations and inspire an all-new story unlike anything a creator would've thought up before.
The best way to overcome Writer's Block is not to seek out Inspiration once the words have already failed: it's to make a habit of living a lifestyle that continually seeks fresh knowledge while also making time to mull over that knowledge, letting none of it slip through the cracks in the chaos of living everyday life.
Inspiration may seem instantaneous, but it's the end result of a life fertilized with experiences culminating in an "aha" moment where the creative mind finally reaps its ripened fruit. Continually seeking fresh experiences away from the writer's desk, a writer will constantly add to their library of knowledge. In the meditative process of sorting it all away, the creative mind is trained and given the necessary space to work its magic and synthesize ideas and situations that are altogether new and unique.
As we approach the end of another year, consider making a resolution not merely to stop getting Writer's Block, but to nurture Inspiration and provide fertile ground for it to grow.
May you have bountiful experiences and endless inspiration in 2023 and beyond!