The struggles of writer’s block and how to overcome it

It took me hours to even come up with the title of this column

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Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

I’ll begin by admitting that I started the writing process for the column you are reading right now with immeasurably high expectations for myself. As a new addition to The Cavalier Daily staff — burdened with the knowledge that anything I wrote would be made public for complete strangers to read — I felt an immense pressure to write the best column ever weighing down on my shoulders. My first piece had to be great — no, it had to be perfect. The Mona Lisa of columns, if you will.

And so, on a day like any other, I opened up my word processor, created a new document and rested my fingertips against my keyboard, waiting for that burst of inspiration to strike me.

I then proceeded to stare at the blank page in silence for 10 minutes.

Panic began to flood my system by the time 30 minutes had ticked by. No matter how hard I tried, I could not think of a single decent idea for a first sentence. It was as if my brain had short-circuited, leaving me with nothing but a few incoherent thoughts and the movement of the clock in the corner of the room, a constant reminder of all the time I was wasting. All my ideas had vanished into the abyss that was writer’s block. It took virtually no time at all for dread to overwhelm me. Combined with my budding frustration, it made for an agonizing experience.

I shut my laptop and decided to take a nap, knowing full well that I didn’t deserve it.

This was far from my first encounter with infamous writer’s block. After years of writing papers for classes, I’d like to consider myself well-acquainted with that cursed lack of creativity that always seems to take hold the instant I find an opportunity to sit down and crank out a few lines of prose. More recently —  after weeks drafting short stories for my fiction-writing workshop —  I was convinced that I had finally killed the writer’s block demon that haunted me from time to time, as though it were some vanquished foe that would never dare disturb me again. Of course, that was just wishful thinking. Writer’s block is so common that it has become just another one of those things that all writers lament the existence of — and with good reason. Every word placed on the page feels like pulling teeth. Every constructed sentence looks wrong, for some unknown reason. It’s, quite frankly, a pain to deal with.

Overcoming writer’s block is no easy task, but I was determined to have something to show for my hours of suffering. After all, I had a deadline to meet! It took me an unbearably long amount of time to type out my first sentence and then only a fraction of that time to type out the rest. 

I was only able to push through my writer’s block when I stopped caring about the quality of my work and just started to write, no longer concerned with the merit of my prose or the impressive nature of the overarching theme of the column. Fixating on your expectations for the piece will get you nowhere, and overthinking every carefully-selected word will only serve to give you a headache. I have to be willing to let my writing lead me to its natural conclusion, and it’s best if I also discard any notions of creating a masterpiece from day one.

By now, you’ve likely noticed — perhaps humorously — that my first column is about how difficult it was to write it. Trust me, this isn’t what I intended to write about. I started this piece wanting to write about something else entirely, and yet, somehow, I ended up here all the same. Sometimes you have to accept that your writing will take you in directions you never expected to go. Even if you can’t write the literary equivalent of the Mona Lisa, who’s to say that writing anything less is not a worthwhile pursuit? That’s the key to overcoming the struggles of writer’s block — allowing yourself to let loose, disregarding the height of any standards you have placed upon yourself and taking the time to enjoy the experience of putting words to paper.

By freeing myself of any expectations, I was able to look back at my writing with fresh eyes. I can now say with confidence that I am more satisfied with this piece than I would have been if I labored over each individual phrase. Let’s just hope that I don’t have to start every column with a brainstorming panic in order to feel content with my writing by the end — I seriously doubt that would be beneficial to my mental health.

Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.  She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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