The worst thing that could ever happen to you as a writer is getting blocked. You go out for a walk, you listen to your favorite music, you browse the Internet, or you go back to sleep–all these because they might help you find the right words–to give you what you need. You consult the dictionary, you search for synonyms in the thesaurus, you do some research–all these because you are hoping you might have a sudden burst of inspiration–a seedling of an idea, an iota or a semblance of a creative spark.
And yet, you have Nothing.
All you see is a white blank canvas of a computer screen. You go digging inside the inner crevices of that creative mind of yours in search of brilliance to give you that push you need to write a literary masterpiece. But still, you have Nothing. You have done it before, but why can’t you do it again? You have written countless letters to your lover. You have written a number of articles for your column. You have written hundreds of blogs. And you even have written a novel and nonfiction books.
And yet, you still have Nothing.
Words fail you. They elude you like the elusive characters in your book. You can’t find suitable metaphors, and you couldn’t create the right storyline or outline for your book. Before this happened, you have been arranging words effortlessly with graceful eloquence–forming harmoniously a musical legato of words conducted by you, artistically creating a symphony of words playing together smoothly. But why can’t you do it again?
COMPARE AND DESPAIR
You are not alone in this. At some point, even the greatest of writers have suffered a writer’s block–a state of what I call wordlessness, if you will. You see, I believe the biggest attitudinal factor that leads to writer’s block is comparing yourself with others. As a writer, you sometimes want to be better than most. You want people to appreciate you and to validate you. You want to matter–to be heard, to have a voice that can influence other’s way of seeing the world, to mold opinions, and to make a difference in others through your work.
You want to be the next bestselling author like J.K Rowling, to be a Nobel Peace Prize awardee like Aung San Suu Kyi, to be the next Pulitzer Prize winner like Paul Harding, to be discovered by the big publishing companies. To have book tours, to have guestings on TV shows, to have a book included by Oprah’s Club, or, quite simply, to have a respectable amount of followers for your blog.
But the truth is, comparing yourself with others will only erode your self-esteem and your sense of internal security. You sell yourself short, you diminish your confidence, and you lessen your self-worth. The result is a fickle writing style that will manifest in your work–indecisive, unconvincing, incoherent, inconsistent. You labor over every page, every word. You draft, redraft, erase, edit, or completely write a new one. You pressure yourself into being perfect because you want to be as good or better than the others.
You become blind to your own worth and to your own talents. You focus on the other person’s worth and talent. You start to think he’s better or far more superior than you. It creates within you an inferiority complex which can lead to a downward spiral of your self-esteem. You become obsessed with wanting to become what you think is ideal–a great storyteller, a prolific writer, a master wordsmith. Instead of finding ways to become better, you focus on the negative things: “Will I ever be good as Writer X?,” or “Can I ever come up with a good book at all”?
THE MYTH OF GENIUS AND INSPIRATION
Ernest Hemingway, Donald Hall, and Mundis strongly believe that writing should be seen simply as a craft–a physical and mental exercise that can be honed, improved, and sharpened through practice, just like singing, dancing, painting. This means you do not become good at anything, even if you were prodigiously gifted, without practice. Even musical prodigies like Sarah Chang and Jackie Evancho had to practice hours and hours before they reached the level of mastery they have accomplished now. It takes talent, hardwork, persistence, and time before you can become a master at your craft. Nothing comes naturally. You have to work for it. You have to master the basics. You have to pass through different levels of competence.
You don’t need to be a genius to become a writer. Anybody can become a writer, but not everyone can be a good writer. To be a good writer, you have to have faith in your abilities, you have to believe that you have something to say, and you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough to be heard.
YOUR VOICE IS UNIQUE
Technique and style can be learned, but you can never be better unless you really want to. Your passion will make you practice writing, and practice will make you better. When you get better with with practice and passion, you find your writing style. When you find your writing style, you find your voice. When you find your voice, people will see the person behind the writing. They will see the real you.
In his book, Keys to Great Writing, Stephen Wilbers couldn’t have said it any any better when he wrote, “On a surface level, style–or at least stylistic style–is easily described imitated. You can appropriate any stylistic technique you like and use it for your own purposes. You can study White’s style. You can imitate White’s word choice and sentence structure. With practice, you even can incorporate White’s style into your own stylistic repertoire. But, in all likelihood, you cannot write as White writes–at least not consistently and not over time. You cannot be E.B. White.”
You see, the difference between you and E.B White is not the writing style or the technique. Those can be learned, imitated, and incorporated into your own “stylistic repertoire.” The difference between you and E.B. White is your voice. You are unique in that you have a different personality, stories, and life experiences from that of White’s. Yes, you can write like White, but that will not make you a great writer, only a copycat.
The things you experience in life and the things you learn about writing are what make you unique. They are the things that bring color and life to your writing. Use that to your advantage. That’s what gives you your own voice–an amalgamation of techniques and styles that is a reflection of your personality, and an amalgamation of life experiences that brings about a reflection of the person you really are. Let the real you show through your work. Everybody has a story to tell. Don’t be afraid to tell it the best way you know how. You may not be as good as White now, but you just might be–with a little more practice, a little more inspiration, a little more patience and persistence, and a lot less comparison.
Writing is an enjoyable experience, not a daunting task.
Do not pressure yourself into being the perfect writer with the perfect grammar with the perfect word choices. Do not pressure yourself into thinking that everybody expects you to be perfect with perfect grammar with perfect word choices. And do not pressure yourself into believing that you can be the perfect writer with the perfect grammar, and with the perfect word choices. You are not perfect. You never will be. Neither you nor E.B. White will ever be.
When you stop comparing yourself with others, when you stop pressuring yourself into being perfect, maybe by then, you will start being good. Maybe by
then, you will start being great.
Maybe by then, you’ll have Something.