Dealing with writer’s block

Writer’s block is a weird thing. I’ve been bothered by it for years now (that is, for works of fiction) but I still haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reason for it. The fact remains that whenever I complete an idea for a story and start writing, it just doesn’t happen. The story should write itself, they say, but mine just don’t anymore. Sometimes I’m able to write a few pages, the start or ending or some random events, but when I look at it the next day it simply doesn’t feel right. As if I wanted to hit a target with my bow and arrow, but after I aimed and let loose the arrow went somewhere completely different. Maybe the target was too far away, or my hands were shaking. Perhaps I was using the wrong bow or the arrow wasn’t properly fletched. I used to know exactly how to hit the target, but somehow the arrows started falling to the ground. Many broken arrows now lie scattered among the empty targets, in a field of unfulfilled promises.

As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, I started writing fiction as soon as I knew how to write. For years and years I wrote stories. Short, long, funny, sad, fantasy, realism – it didn’t really matter to me. I just wrote down whatever came up in my mind. Of course a lot of stories ended up unfinished, but I felt like I would be able to complete them if I ever wanted to. I usually moved on because I had gotten a bit older and had outgrown the story. I didn’t want to write about the same subjects or in the same style again, but reading my old stories always gave (and still give) me a sense of pride and nostalgia: “Wow, did I really write that when I was fourteen?”

Around the time I started university it seemed to get harder to feel that way about the stories I wrote. I read and reread my stories and always felt dissatisfied. It didn’t sound the way I wanted it to sound, the message wasn’t clear enough or it seemed to miss the point entirely. After rewriting the same paragraph over and over again I would set it aside and fret about it for days on end. The general advice people gave me was to skip to a different part of the story and come back to this piece later. But in my frustration I wasn’t able to let it go. It bothered me so much that I simply wasn’t able to concentrate on something else.

After dealing with this problem over and over again while it only seemed to worsen, I gave up. My mind was still overflowing with ideas, but the frustration of not being able to write them down became too much. I couldn’t bring myself to try again. It felt like something that had been so inherently mine had been taken away from me. A part of my identity had been stripped away. It didn’t even make me feel depressed, it just made me angry. I managed to push that feeling away by not thinking about it too much. Of course I still missed writing fiction, but whenever I did I’d just direct my focus elsewhere. While studying I always had enough things to keep me busy anyway.

Lately I’ve started to think about writing fiction again, but I haven’t dared to actually do it just yet. The confronting mess of failed attempts, of broken arrows, makes me afraid to pick up the bow again. I wonder if the writer’s block will still be around, and, maybe more importantly, what caused it to begin with. The only thing I know is that it all started when I went to university. Was it stress, caused by the increased workload? Did my perfectionism get out of control, fuelled by my desire to do well? Or is it something entirely different? What if I just needed a break from fiction for a while? Whatever it is (or was), I’m sure it isn’t a permanent thing. If I could do it before, I surely can once more (that rhymes). It may take a while, but I will tell my stories again.

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