A blank page. Uninspired cliche lyrics. Same old boring chord progressions. A stuck mind. And you hear yourself say, "do I still have it?"
This is the Writer's Block, the two words most dreaded by hopeful creatives like you and me. And just like you, I go through this phase a lot. Let me repeat, A LOT.
Whether you are writing a book or a blog, composing a song, crafting a poem, or scripting a play, all writers know about this, and it's like we have no power over it. One day we were on fire and bursting with inspiration, then all of a sudden, all fire was gone, and motivation got thrown out off the bus. We can't seem to think of anything practical. We are defenseless in the face of writer's block.
My most prolonged phase of writing block is the period 2019-2022. I haven't made any new songs or music at this point. Three years of being stuck in a rut. No new ideas. And during this time, when we all stayed at home, I reflected on what was the mystery that is writer's block? Is it possible to get out of it? Is it real? Or am I just being lazy?
The Truth About Writer's Block
During these uninspired times, I had a lot of nightmares in the evening, and in the morning, I daydreamed a lot. I think about many things, and I let my mind wander. And I'm surprised I managed to do that for the past three years. My mind wanders—all the time.
So, a realization came into my head that my mind was never blank. My mind replays some pleasant and awful memories, and my mind also worries about what the future holds and what if something goes wrong. My mind constantly thinks about all sorts of things, both the beautiful and the ugly. So why am I having the most challenging time of my life writing?
You see, our minds are never blank. What writer's block means is not that we can't think of anything, but it's more like we can't bring ourselves to say what's in it.
Our minds are never blank.
We're just afraid to say what's in it.
Document, not Create
Austin Kleon says in his book Show Your Work!,
"...whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way."
When we feel like we can't think of anything sensible or creative, the most significant blunder we will make as creatives is to stop. But how do we continue our craft if we don't feel like doing it? Austin suggests that in difficult times like these, remove the pressure to create and simply start documenting what you do.
In our case, try this; document what's in your mind right now. It might contain the ugliest truth about yourself or your most embarrassing moments as a human being. Or it might have some frustrations you can't break through of what you're going through right now.
When I first tried it, it was hard. I have written an ugly part of myself on paper that no one should ever see. But, looking at it, I have written something. It just proves that my mind was never blank. Hence, during "writer's block," the only hindrance between my ideas and my creation is me.
Check this lyric from Jason Mraz's I'm Yours:
I've been spending way too long checking my tongue in the mirror,
And bending over backwards just to try to see it clearer,
But my breath fogged up the glass,
And so I drew a new face and laughed.
No one pays attention to the genius of its writing anymore since radios overplayed it. I once sang this on karaoke, and when I got to this part, I was surprised by what I had just read and sang! I was thinking, did he observe himself doing this silly thing one morning and just slapped it in the song? I can't believe it; the lyrics are so childish!
It was so silly and simple, yet it felt so authentic.
Did Jason make fun of himself? Of course!
Did he care to be embarrassed? I don't think so.
Did people ridicule him for the silliness? No, people loved it.
What Jason did here is he didn't create. He just documented (the absurdity). But, people see it as authenticity. And this childish lyric belongs to the biggest hit of Jason Mraz in his career.
Whenever there is something silly in my mind that I want to put in a song, I remember this line. It's not up to us if the music we release is good. It's up to the people who will listen to it. In the same way, abstract art in museums highly depends on the viewer's perception; it's the same way our music is displayed for everyone to see. Some will pass by and appreciate it, but someone out there is willing to buy it for a million dollars.
When we feel like we can't think of anything sensible or creative, the most significant blunder we will make as creatives is to stop.
The Only Way To Lose
As creatives, we chose a race where there can be no winners. We run on tracks that give color to this monochrome world with no finish line. Everyone has a unique hue to give out. Some colors may dominate the canvas of the earth, but no one can discount the nuance of your share of paint, no matter how small that might be. Even the brightest colors needed the shade of grey and black to shine genuinely.
In your music, art, photos, poems, or plays, the only way to lose is when you stop. So, even in the ugliest parts of your life right now, don't stop. If the dreaded writer's block is in the way, remember it is only your fear of yourself. Let out that ugly truth in your mind into your notebook, and you'll see if the world needs it or not.
As long as you don't stop, you don't lose. And that's the meaning of winning, right?