There’s an interesting thing about blogging that few people know about. It’s supposed to be easy, the easiest thing in the world to write. We can all do it. It’s simple, something we learned in grade school. When you find yourself on the grind though, suddenly it’s a different matter. Everybody believes that they know how to write, but the surprising fact is that putting one word in front of the other is always harder than it seems. The difficulty of it is even more pronounced in light of my recent stroke, which has left me unable to focus on anything for as long as I would like to. (In case anybody has been wondering where I’ve been lately, now you have an answer.) What is the challenging thing about blogging though? We use language every day.
There is no reason that it should take any effort at all. Why do we struggle with writer’s block? Why do we write in the first place? The term “writer’s block” describes a state in which you mean to write without having anything that’s gnawing at you to be expressed. This is a common problem that professional writers face almost every day as part of their jobs. Sometimes words are demanding to be written, but thoughts and feelings are not demanding to be known. There is an underlying sense that something needs to be said, but it hasn’t been clarified exactly what is driving it. In these cases, people are often inclined to analyze their ability to write.
They start to wonder things like, “What topic will be most interesting to my readers?” “What are my themes?” “What is an ideal word count to get my point across?” The reason that no useful solution is found by this method of inquiry is that they don’t consider the most important thing of all for any piece: what do you want to say? In response to the last query, you might be inclined to question even more deeply what your purpose is in blogging, why it is useful, and what aims you mean to use it for. These questions are equally pointless. Remember that writers block doesn’t arise out of an ability or inability to write; it arises from an inability to clarify, in language, your unspoken ideas. Writing is an abstract means to a concrete end; it makes real for others the things that only you can see. Like driving, it has a practical purpose, but it gets us from point A to point B with pen and paper rather than with a combustion engine. If there is no point B to arrive at, it is easy to tell what driving is for: nothing.
The same goes for blogging. Before any conclusions can be arrived at concerning how come and how best to write, the first thing is to develop the seed of an idea to sprouting. That is, have faith in some idea, and believe that it should be carried to completion. If you consider every good idea you’ve ever had, you probably will not feel overwhelmed by numbness and a lack of inspiration. If you consider every good idea you’ve ever had, you will probably feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of them all. “I can’t possibly have time for each one,” you might think. Remember that there is a certain exercise of faith involved here. Your only job as a writer at this stage is to choose any idea that you want to examine in its fullness.
There are no external criteria to follow. This is your idea, the only one of its kind. So, choose carefully—but before you can write, you have to faithfully choose. On the other hand, if you really have no ideas, you are in a position of freedom to write about any of the myriad things that you don’t care about. But there is still a leap of faith involved in choosing just one. In a way, this is almost no different than being overwhelmed by hundreds of great ideas competing for your attention. There are a lot of decision making techniques and algorithms that will produce random pieces of moderate quality for you if you’re feeling lazy.
Formula writing is a tried and true method of paying the bills. But if you want to write authentically, to solve the conflicting emptiness you feel when you have writer’s block, this is the sort of advice that can help you. Understand that it isn’t your technique that needs to be exercised, but a clarity of feeling and an organization of thought that need to be developed before meaningful work can be done with language. Just to be clear, it really is hard to write. Writer’s block is not a silly problem or something that should be disregarded. It’s the first and most difficult step to getting a good idea off the ground. It’s should be treated with great care. After a good idea has been decided on, then work can begin on its presentation in written form.
We can start meaningfully talking about whether this or that method is most effective, how many words and what kind of structure we want to use in our piece, and so on This latter work is difficult too. To communicate as clearly as possible can sometimes take a very deep and nuanced understanding of language. If you have ever read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, you might have learned that as much as one word misplaced can be the difference between a profound message elegantly stated and complete nonsense.
Our technique certainly can and should be optimized. Our voice can and should be refined. Even considering the appearance of our prose is important. There is no quick cure for writers block as far as I can tell, and no easy road to perfect mental clarity, but for my readers who need concrete advice on this topic, there are a few practices that are known to help overcome the initial hurdle of generating ideas. The first is to allow a the influence of randomness into your piece. If it gets the pen moving for you, by all means consult a pair of dice or a deck of cards. One idea is to write down random words on index cards, shuffle them, and lay out a few of the cards next to each other, then construct a story based on all three.
Something else that’s very helpful for certain people is meditation. Some people swear up and down that it improves every aspect of their lives in one way or another. There are no hard and fast rules for how one should meditate. It’s not my area of expertise, but if you’re interested in starting a meditation routine, a practice that is gaining traction lately is called Mindfulness. It’s being recommended by clinicians lately to treat a number of attention issues and even anxiety and depression. Since my recent stroke, blogging has become more difficult. It’s not just that I can’t focus as I commit words to the page.
My focus wavers on the whole picture. It’s a good thing that my message is even partially written down, because without it I wouldn’t remember what I meant to say sometimes, as if I were interrupted in the middle of a sentence and the whole thought dispersed into the ether. It’s frustrating, but it also perfectly illustrates the kind of internal clarity that is essential for . Although my clarity is wavering, I don’t doubt my message, only my ability to focus on it for an extended period of time. All the same, I’ll have it out there for your sake even if I have to hobble all the way to the last word.