Every entity has its own antithesis, but most only encounter their personalized bogeyman a few times in their lifetime. Writers, however, get to face them multiple times a day, yay! For us lot, our bogeyman is known as the Writer’s Block™.
What is writer’s block?
Put simply, it’s when you just can’t write. Put dramatically:
The colorless phantom, not unlike a black hole in its complete lack of light, often comes around all smart and dressed up like a humble critic. An intellectual armed with knowledge of everything you’ve ever worked on, with a long list of reasons of why it’s never been good enough, and why you should, in fact, stop now before it’s too late – not only because every good idea in the universe has already been discovered by someone far smarter than you, but also because nothing you ever write will be good enough – so it’s clearly time to cut your losses and go do the dishes or something. Once you’ve fallen into its trap – and you’ll never see it coming – it’s all empty eyes and staring at walls for days. The humble critic is now an authoritarian overlord who’s banned every word from being written.
You can’t write and you feel like a can of trash. The writer in you demands revolution; the pen must write, the words spill and the stories be told!
So, Writer’s Block. How does one dethrone it? It’s locked up all your ideas in the dungeon of your brain, next to your knowledge of calculus and Mendelian inheritance, and you can’t for the life of you recall them in any meaningful way. You’re out of juice, what do you do?
We have a tip: write from life. Now, follow our hunt; think with us. Let’s go:
Writing From Life
That person you see every other day at your local library, or on your way to school or work, or that one person you saw that one time at the mall who’s never left your mind since – what did you notice about them?
Write it down to the last pixel your mind stored of their image, however distorted, just write it down. The point is, your mind already has the story, you just need to write, not think too much about creating the story. And you know this story works – that person was living it, weren’t they?
If you can’t think of anyone, take a stroll and people watch. Choose a discreet corner of the park or even just your balcony, take some time out to simply watch people go about their day.
Next, imagine what they were upto. Were they studying something that looked like chemistry at the library? How about that person on your commute, were they always glued to their phone? Maybe they’re a hacker! And that person at the mall, they spoke with a funny accent, didn’t they? That’s telling of where they come from.
Ask yourself questions about them. Why are they here? What are they thinking about? Were they waiting for someone/something/a SIGN? Ask randomly: do they have a grudge against someone? What do they keep in their pockets? Do they have a favorite dEsSeRt? Or maybe – you, why were you there? Write it all down.
You have characters now. Get them moving in a plot. Think of the people around you. Did something bizarre happen to them recently? Stories can also be retellings. Write about your brother getting lost in the grocery store, what he felt, what he saw. Only, it’s not your brother, but the person from the mall who always carried a butter knife in their pocket just in case they ever need to cut a cake impromptu. Add some salt and pepper for details, did they have to best a dragon before they found Mum? Or confront their deepest fears?
(If you’re not a people person/can’t read them/have no one interesting around you, try watching a documentary or reading a history excerpt. Like the aforementioned pointer, retell what you learn. Add some pizzazz to all the small niceties. What if the unsolved heist was perpetrated by a bunch of teenagers? Maybe the Plague was remedied by an aromatherapist?
Don’t think too much about anything you’ll hit a wall with. Stories can be plot-driven (think of Harry Potter’s consistent run-ins with terrible situations), or they can be character-driven (think of John Green’s characters) – pick one for now. Just for the burst of inspiration – and write away. At this point, you don’t even have to write full, grammatically consistent sentences; just jot down your ideas, what you see in front of you, what you imagine the intricacies to be like, or anything your memory serves. The point is that you’re writing, and your creativity is finally being stimulated. If you hit a wall with the character, switch up and run on with the plot – and vice-versa.
In the end when you’ve got a good 500+ words, pat yourself on the back and feel good for a moment and say alhamdulillah, you actually wrote! Take a break, come back and review your writing.
There’s a big chance that you’ll like it, or at least some of it. And that’ll make for something you can work on in your future writing sessions. If not, it’s a good warm up and you can get back to writing the important things you’d been meaning to write all along. Or perhaps it’ll be fuel for your imagination on a rainy day. Or maybe – just maybe – you’ve got a really good thing and you’ll come back to flesh it out and then dump it in an email and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in our next issue! Just remember to go through the guidelines before you hit send 😉
About the Authors
Sumayya is a university student studying for a B.Sc. in Business & Management. She is currently in her fourth year and spends a lot of time looking for internships online but never applying due to her numerous pet projects. She enjoys learning and teaching Arabic in her spare time.
Jabal Maryam is a first-year university student who excels at procrastination and last minute submissions.