Unclogging Writer's Block (by Tad Winslow)

Writer’s block is more closely related to unreasonably high standards than it is to bouts of utter blankness of thought. I mean, the words are always there, right? They haven’t squealed out of the driveway in your car. They’re half stuck in the ground just waiting to be unearthed, polished, and constructed into the storied chapters of your skyscraping novel, or thatched into the loose-leaf roof that tops your poem’s humble hut.

Imagine a plumber stepping away from a flooded sink, yanking his pants back into place, and attributing his work stoppage to “plumber’s block.” How ridiculous? That would never fly. So how do writers get away with it?

Would it be appropriate for firefighters, dentists, or surgeons to halt midway through dousing flames, yanking teeth, and slicing abdomens, so that they could return to their task once refreshed and fully inspired? No, they find a way to overcome obstacles and that’s why they succeed.

“A kid falls off a slide at Water Country today due to lifeguard’s block,” the newscast reports.

When nothing I write seems to be of good quality, and I feel exasperated by my
self-imposed expectations, I break free from what I’m doing and free write. I cut
myself some much-needed slack and go forth writing nonstop for a minute or two. It’s a relief to see the words flow without hesitation or immediate judgment. Some of what spews out is salvageable and easy to implement into what I’m working on. Other bits and pieces are more suitable for starting something entirely new. For example, I did a free write just now, and this is slightly embarrassing, but I was surprised to find “It’s Fritz, the hazmat cat” submerged in the soupy swamp of adjectives and prepositions. Clearly, that is not something that streamlines with this blog. But Fritz could find his way into a children’s book. Not only is that idea worth saving to explore later, it helped me continue to create and be productive when my cursor blinked in place one too many times.

So, if your wheels start to spin in the muck, forget about contriving your magnificent world for a second. Take a siesta from striving for pure excellence. Lower your standards and forgive yourself for not being so immaculate. Let the words out, adapt, and keep going.

No one has to read anything you experiment with. Embrace your shortcomings and work through them. Forge new paths if you’re discouraged. Go forth and just write!

Perfectionists only exist in imperfect worlds.


  • Kihd

    I concur. You don’t know how much I want to stand up and give you a round of casual applause. I hate it when people comment with “I don’t get it”. Not all writing is meant to be had! I could go on such a huge rampage about this topic. I love this blog subject so much though. Very well done. :)

  • THX 0477

    Ah, lowered expectations. Always good advice to put one’s ego in check from time to time.

  • Krulltar

    First, let me say, I’m not happy we are talking about wri…writ….wri… [THAT WHICH SHALL NOT BE NAMED] .

    Personally, I find that it’s not about too lofty of goals or being a perfectionist, but rather that I haven’t to cuddled and listened to my muses, or given them a little TLC. Too often, I let Real Life stress or adventures shut them out. I’ve had some bad knock down, dragged out fights with my muses…nothing I’m proud of, but for every bite or bruise they leave on me, our relationship grows deeper. I love each and everyone of my muses, all 42 of them. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, no matter how many times they have given me the silent treatment. In the end, I’m only a vessel for their voices.

  • ElshaHawk (LoA)

    That Which Shall Not Be Named does come from different sources. Ego/perfectionism, or Life/Blocking your Muse are just two. I’m sure there are more. my favorite new writing quote is this: “For every day you take off from writing, your muse will take off three!” Whether you have one muse or 42, whether your stumbling block comes from change or perfectionism, the point is to write EVERY DAY. And in this, I agree with Tad.

  • JayDee

    I agree with you Tad. Sometimes, the writing is easy, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s always there. Writer’s block is not the drying up of the imaginary well, it’s when you’re too scared to try in case you fail.

    Carlos Zafon said something like, “To write, you simply have to sit at your desk and squeeze your brain until something comes out.”

    Sometimes we have moments of “Eureka!”-like inspiration. But that’s rare. Most of the time, we just have to sit at our desks…

    And squeeze.

  • HSAR

    That last line is awesome.

  • 32 ^2

    I think “writer’s block” is really an artist who is low on supplies.

    Do you “paint” apples utilizing only one of these?
    If one of these isn’t available, do you stop painting apples?

    Do you “sculpt” apples using only one of these processes?
    Clay & hands
    Steel & blowtorch
    Sand & Water
    Feces & Tongue Depressor
    Granite & chisel
    Wood & chainsaw
    Cement & Trowel
    Ice & Awl
    If one of these isn’t available, do you stop sculpting apples?

    Do you write about apples using only one of these processes?
    If one of these isn’t available, do you stop writing about apples?

    See my point? Everyone has a story to tell, some just choose to limit how they tell it. They’ve blocked themselves.

    Let Yourself Out.

    If you have the passion, you’ll ditch that “favorite” pen, and use a nail & dried mud.

  • Paulthev

    I will never refer to it as writers block again after reading this

  • Tad Winslow

    Thank you all for the comments! You’ve all made me feel welcome aboard the Ficly blog-ship :)