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:
- 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.
- 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.