The bags under my eyes could carry a week's worth of groceries, and I was ready to call it a day. But something was still unfinished. Slowly, I craned my head around to the screen two feet away from my face. The document was empty except for a sorry-looking header and the blinking cursor.
In a desperate attempt at reverse psychology, I repeated to myself, “This is not writer’s block, this is not writer's block, this is not writer's block…”
Writer's block is an understatement. In my head, I was stuck outside a 60-foot high steel vault bordered by electric fences, canine mutants, and a maze of locks with combination codes are known only to the Swiss banks. It was more than a block—it was a concrete wall covering every inch of creative space that would otherwise blossom into inspiration.
But then it hit me. Maybe it isn't about tearing down or climbing over the wall. Maybe, instead, it's about painting the wall.
In other words, if the task seems impossible, try a different solution. If it still seems impossible, try again another way. And if the task remains insurmountable, change the task.
Rather than searching for inspiration beyond reach, we can create our own. Painting a mural on the wall, metaphorically speaking, is proof that we are not as confined as we think we are. According to author Susan Reynolds, writer's block is a “mental construct that doesn't actually exist.” While the nonexistence of this barrier is debatable, we can at least agree that writer's block—or the illusion of it—still affects us. But if we can create this nuisance in our minds, then we can also break free from it.
Or, we can avoid it in the first place.
Writer's block is often seen as a byproduct of perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, or other 'dysfunctional attitudes' toward one's own work—specifically those driven by a fear of failure. It boils down to a way of thinking. Maybe in order to avoid writer's block, we need to embrace our imperfect work, especially in its developing stages.
And here's the thing with work that is incomplete, blemished, too wordy, or too bland—it is, by definition, in progress.
A work in progress is a masterpiece in its own right because it reflects the gears that churned the content. It is an idea in motion, continuously molding itself into whatever it will eventually become. It is evidence of the inspiration to begin, the flexibility to adapt, and the will to continue.
So whether you're staring at a blank Word document or a few fully written pages chock-full of mistakes, remember that writer's block—if it exists—is what we make of it. It will plague us if we fight it, and it will dissolve if we let it. But we must value every stage of the process. Hemingway wasn't born cradling his best works, after all.