Writer's Block is an Emotional Condition / by Dan Mayer

Resolve it by writing a letter

I’ve heard writer’s block described as many things: a curse, a scourge upon one’s imagination, death by tedium. Maybe the experience of it is too subjective to box in with a pithy metaphor, but there is one thing we can all agree on. Writer’s block is the denial of creative joy. It is just awful.

Writer’s block is also an emotional condition, and this is how you might work through it.

With Writer’s Block we find ourselves looking around for a solution, a way to trick the process into starting back up. What we really need to be doing is looking for the cause. You don’t have a reservoir of creativity that gets depleted and slowly builds back up. It’s just there, all of it, unrelenting. The block is asserted by another force. By wrestling with Writer’s Block you’re addressing a symptom, not the underlying issue.

The issue is that there is something other than your work that you need to express. Something that needs to be said, to someone more vital to you than your audience. Write that person a letter.

You don’t have to send it afterward. Write the letter you’d never share, the one that would ruin everything if you did. Be frank and honest. Admit your misdeeds. Wallow in your disappointment.  Say it all, and don’t worry if it’s artful or literary. If you don’t have tears in your eyes at some point, you might not be writing the right letter.

The letter can be to anyone. It can be to your spouse, your mother, your superiors, the other members of the committee, your dead, your dying, or the one who didn’t understand you the way you'd hoped they might. Mine was to my four-year-old daughter.

Write it until it’s done. Don’t revise. Resist the temptation to keep it hidden away in some vault, digital or otherwise. This isn’t something you’ll want to keep. It’s something you’re trying to let go of. Write it until it’s finished, and then be rid of it. Show yourself that even you most sacred communications can just be words on a page, that they can vanish from the physical world and you will not suffer.

When it’s over, and you don’t have anything left, go to bed. Or take a long drive. Something to shut down your entire creative apparatus. Come back to your regular work the next day.

Bring up your manuscript and start. Your characters have letters to write, too. Help them try.