How to Write When the Words Just Won’t Come
I remember it like it happened yesterday.
I was on the playground when this kid who was about six feet tall, had snow white hair, and looked like the abominable snowman demanded I give him my lunch money.
Since I valued my life, I probably did. But honestly, I can’t remember doing anything. I just remember the threat.
That haunted me whenever I saw him.
The threat of the empty page
If you’ve written more than once, you’ve faced the empty page.
It’s not the page itself that’s the threat. It’s just a symbol. What you’re really afraid of is that your mind is empty.
To compound that fear, you’re afraid that if you dig in, you’d find that your thoughts were emptier than the page you’re staring at.
If that’s true, why do people like Seth Godin blog every single day?
To show you it’s possible.
Does that mean you should?
Only you can answer that.
My goal here is to convince you that writer’s block doesn’t have to be the reason you don’t write.
What’s really behind writer’s block
I remember the first time I heard it.
I was reading a book about assertiveness and these words graced the page like a song that becomes an instant favorite.
Fear knocked at the door.
No one was there.
Bullies win because they don’t expect their victims to fight back.
That kid who looked like the Abominable snowman might have been as strong as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the movie Ghostbusters. When we see him in the theater, we laugh because the image of a giant marshmallow chasing you is hilarious. But when we’re faced with a giant that threatens to kill us, we forget he might be a marshmallow.
Name your fears
If you’ve ever gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, you know how it feels to grope in the dark.
It’s one thing to do it at home where you know the layout. But go to a hotel or stay at a friend’s house and all that familiarity goes out the window.
Strange noises sound like wolves. Bumps in the night sound like burglars. The only way to know for sure is to turn on the light.
Naming things makes them familiar.
When you know what you’re facing, you can figure out what to do about it.
Writer’s block is a name for something else — at least for most of us — and that thing is FEAR.
Identifying that you’re afraid isn’t enough. It’s just the first step. You still need to turn the light on to disperse the darkness.
I can’t name all the fears you might feel, but I will name some of the more common ones. It really doesn’t matter what your particular fear is. You’ll deal with it in the same way.
Fear of looking foolish in front of the whole world
When I was young, my family and I watched the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
They were such a good sleeping pill that my dad thought about recording them to watch in the off-season after lunch on Sunday so he could fall asleep.
This year they’ve lost 6 of the 8 games they’ve played so far. After they lost they first 5, they fired the coach.
If you’ve been a Falcons fan over the years, you’ve gotten used to disappointment.
Not many of us would have the stamina to lose that much and keep pressing on.
But these aren’t just entertainers. They’re on the clock, week after week. It doesn’t matter how they might feel, they keep showing up.
And they keep selling tickets. Their games are still on TV. And people who live in Atlanta still get excited when they do well.
So if the Falcons can press on despite so many setbacks, what’s your excuse?
Don’t worry about being embarrassed, failing, or missing the mark. You’ll get better the more you play, so keep playing.
You’re afraid your fears will come true
I’ve had a gun in my back before.
The gunman stood behind me as I tried to open the safe. He cursed. He called me names. He pushed and pushed, and finally I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Do you want me to open this door or not?”
This took him by surprise.
“Yeah,” was all he could muster.
“Then you’re going to have to shut up.”
He got what he wanted, which was the cash in the safe.
I got what I wanted, which was a chance to live tomorrow.
Have you ever challenged your fears? You might be surprised at what happens. The threat is terrible when you can’t see clearly. Turn on the light and you’ll see the monster has no clothes.
Push back. You might just rob your fear of any power, and you can run forward with the freedom of a child at play.
You’ll never know until you try.
You give up before your breakthrough
My wife and I were at work late one night in 1992. The Braves were on the radio , playing the last game of the championship series. It’s the bottom of the ninth and the whole season rests on this one moment.
Francisco Cabrera is at bat. They’re behind 3–2 and this is their only chance.
Cabrera hits a line drive that distracts the other team long enough for Sid Bream to slide into home and win the game.
The crowd went wild and so did we!
Can you imagine how it would have turned out if Cabrera had thought, “Well, it’s over already. Why bother trying to change it?”
To win the championship, you have to play your best to the very last minute.
Notice I didn’t say you have to do it perfectly. You don’t. Just show up and keep swinging until the clock stops you.
Win or lose, tomorrow is another game.
Babe Ruth set a home run record. But he also struck out more than most. But what do we remember? The record. The victory dance. And we forget the work he put in every day to get there.
So show up. Get out your pen, your keyboard, or your voice recorder. Start with whatever you’ve got and keep at it until something that makes sense hits the page. Even J.K. Rowling says you have to “write the rubbish out.” And if the rubbish is the only thing standing between you and your genius, then writing every day is the only way to reach your destination.
Dreams come true when we act on them.
Write every day. Publish often. Set your own schedule and treat it like a job. Whether or not you get paid, you’re the boss. Don’t let fear take that away from you.
If the Falcons can keep showing up and selling tickets year after year, there’s hope for all of us.
Write today, and every day. When fear knocks at the door, you can open it with confidence — because no one will be there.