There’s Something Much Worse Than Writer’s Block
Monday sucked. Not because it was a Monday. But because I just wasn’t feeling it.
I headed into the day the way I do most — cautiously pessimistic with two tinctures of unbridled optimism. This approach usually works. It didn’t Monday.
I couldn’t write anything. Everything I did manage to get on the screen sucked. Or at least I thought it did. I was unable to reverse the downward spiral even as I saw it happening. By noon, I was useless. Directionless.
You know how this feels. You literally have no idea which way to turn — literally and figuratively. You feel dead inside. Soulless.
I was spinnin’ ‘round a dead dial/Just another lost number in a file
Dancin’ down a dark hole/Just searchin’ for a world with some soul
— Bruce Springsteen, Radio Nowhere
There’s no use dwelling on how it is. The faster you can focus on how to right these moments in time, the faster you can get back to the more creative and productive aspects of life.
Get this out of the way first. For me, it always ends up happening. When I cry early in the proceedings, I get on with it much more quickly and efficiently. Plus, it feels good.
Sometimes I cry, in the car, on the 10-freeway in Los Angeles. F it. Why not?
Listen to or watch something that inspires you
Go to your go-to sources of inspiration.
For me, it’s Springsteen concert footage on YouTube. Or the lyrical genius of Bruce, Tom Petty, Elliott Smith, or Taylor Swift. It might be a speech, a movie, whatever. Retreat to what moves you. If it makes you cry a little more, all the better.
Knock out more basic level work
Strange as it might sound to some, the most straightforward writing I do is about stock options. When I hit writer’s block — which sometimes leads to directionlessness — I write for my client who wants content on options.
I can write about basic stock options strategies in my sleep. And I’m almost always pleased with the results.
In fact, I keep this relative softball in my back pocket. I write for this client once a month. She doesn’t care when I deliver, as long as it’s before the end of the month. When I hit a wall, I write her article for her. Works like a charm. Most of the time.
Reread or rewatch your best or favorite work
Sometimes it doesn’t work.
So I hit the archives. Like if they built a library for articles on the internet written by people who write a minimum of two articles per day for the internet, which articles would I submit for consideration?
Just so you know you don’t actually suck.
Go back and reread the stuff you’re most proud of. I have a handful of articles in a folder — my two peer-reviewed academic publications, my article from 2013 comparing Taylor Swift to Springsteen (I’ll tell you about it someday), and my most read article, to date, on Medium. I rotate a few others in and out of the folder.
Nine times out of ten I remember I’m actually a better than mediocre writer and I get back on the saddle. Then, I pretend I’m riding a time trial. And I just spew words to screen. After that burst, I go back and edit. Nine-point-nine times out of ten, the process results in a publishable article and the restoration of aim, purpose, soul, and direction.
Consider why you feel directionless.
Is it for the things we used to call “first world problems” (we don’t say that much anymore, right?). Medium didn’t curate your article. The editor didn’t like what you wrote. You’re not reaching your financial goals fast enough. You hate your apartment. The person you’re dating is sending worse-than-mixed signals. It’s too hot outside. When will it ever rain? (The last two are LA things).
These things all suck, but, man, stop whining, right? It could be worse and someday it probably will be. It’s not that you shouldn’t feel even mundane problems, obstacles, and disturbances — you’re probably better off if you do — just don’t catastrophize them.
Turn it into content
That’s exactly what I did here. I hit a horrible bout of directionlessness so I decided to do two things:
- Think about what worked to end it the 6,000 times it has happened previously.
- Write an article about the experience.
I cried. I listened to some Bruce. I outlined an article about stock options. I reminded myself that more than 210,000 people in the United States alone have died from a global pandemic. Then I wrote this article. Things stopped seeming so bad after all.
I feel everything. It can be excruciating. Some people don’t get it. Maybe you do. But I have come to welcome the quality in myself.
I used to make myself stop feeling. I shut myself down. I didn’t show myself to others. Sounds cliche, but I didn’t know who I was. This didn’t work.
While some people don’t appreciate my emotionally sensitive side, more than a few exist who do. They’re the people I’m more than comfortable crying in front of. Of being vulnerable with.
Bouts of feeling directionless and soulless come with the territory of life. Don’t fight them. Deal with them. If you have an approach in your back pocket, you’ll grow as a person and become a better creator in the process.