Write your Poem first, worry about Readers later

Figure skater performing a layback spin

Figure skater layback spin

On a busy rink with no one paying attention, a figure skater will land their double axel perfectly. Five minutes later, with their coach watching, the figure skater will wobble just after landing the jump. A month later, on an empty rink with a prize on offer, the skater knows the only way she’ll land that double axel is to imagine there is no one behind the barriers watching her.

There are generally two reasons for writers’ block:

  1. You wrote yourself into a dead end and need to back out by a couple of stanzas and take the left instead of the right turn.
  2. You’re staring at a blank page or screen and that idea you had just won’t articulate itself.

The blanking issue generally comes from performance anxiety: either you’re putting yourself under too much pressure – “You’re a Writer, Write!” or you’ve finally carved out some time for yourself to write and now you can’t – or you’re worried that you won’t find a reader/editor who will like what you’re trying to write. Naturally the more you urge yourself to write something, the blanker the page looks. It becomes more like a bully, “Look at all this blank space you could fill with words, but you won’t because you’re not the writer you thought you were.”

The cure is to take away the anxiety and that’s never as simple as it sounds. Try these steps and adapt them to suit you.

  • Take a break. This might be as quick as getting a cup of coffee or a longer break to take a walk.
  • On your break, think about what you want to achieve with the poem you’re struggling to write. How would you want a reviewer or workshop to discuss it? Why do you want to write this poem – are you trying to raise awareness of a subject or resolve an issue or record a memory before it’s completely forgotten?
  • When you get back to your blank page, quickly write down in note form what you want to achieve.
  • Now your page isn’t blank anymore. You’ve still not written your poem but you know where you want it to go.
  • Don’t worry about the beginning, start in the middle or work backwards and sketch out what shape the poem should take.
  • The writing may be hesitant, uneven or full of false starts, but you are writing.

You’re writing because, like the figure skater, you took your focus off the audience and placed it back on the poem.

Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading


Writer’s Block or is it?

How do you measure productivity as a writer? Number of words typed per day? Number of acceptances per year? Whether you met the 60000 word target for NaNoWriMo?

Do you use apps to block access to social media or apps that punish you when you stop typing or reward you at an achieved word count?

What do you do when you’re looking at a blank screen, your fingers poised above the home keys and your brain fails to instruct your fingers to type? Panic?

Actually, you shouldn’t panic, even if you’re up against a deadline. Whether that’s a deadline you had plenty of notice of but left until the eleventh hour or one you rashly agreed to despite knowing you didn’t have enough time to meet it.

But it doesn’t seem right, does it? Writers write so a writer not writing is no longer a writer, right?

Wrong. A hack produces x number of words per day. A beginner congratulates themselves on achieving their NaNoWriMo targets. An amateur agrees to write 2000 words on a subject they think they can quickly research via a search engine and submit the final article with three hours. A writer does not (although word counts may be a useful pace-maker or overall target, eg “I’m going to write for two hours a day” could be re-phased as “I’m going to write an average of two thousand words a day”.) Hitting the NaNoWriMo target is a beginning, not an end.

A writer knows that the only valid measurement of productivity is connected to acceptances: a publisher accepting your novel, a magazine accepting your poem, a journal accepting your finished article, your readership writing rave reviews about your latest piece.

There are two elements to writing. The act of getting words on paper is only one of them. If you only use this measure, a novel can be written in less than two months. A poetry collection would take even less time. But I would not want to read either that novel or poetry collection.

The second element is creativity. That takes place when you’re planning, getting to know your characters, dreaming, wondering why the same images, phrases or themes haunt you. Without that creativity, you’re not a writer.

Do your productivity targets allow you time to be a writer? If you think you have writer’s block, that just might be your writer’s instinct telling you it’s time to create.