Writing Prompts Don’t Work for Writer’s Block


Imagine that a famous artist were suffering through, as artists often are, a period of stagnation; this artist would start on canvases with great energy, only to destroy them shortly thereafter in a fit of hopelessness. Stuck in a cycle of unproductivity, this artist would be desperate to retrieve his former creative fire, to at least produce. He suddenly gets an idea—he turns to a painting-by-number kit, and begins churning out painting after painting as he fills some areas of the canvas with Burnt Sienna, others with Cadmium Green. Our artist is keeping the creative juices flowing in a burst of productivity, is he not? He is being prolific, the supposed goal of all artists, albeit with drab, run-off-the-mill art.

Writing prompts do not alleviate writer's block

Writing prompts do for writers what painting-by-number kits do for artists

But productivity does not equate artistry, and there is no yardstick that determines how much an artist should produce before he is to be lauded. The concept of art as measurable in terms of yield, like goods off a conveyor belt, is pure fallacy: an artist’s work is about synthesizing inspiration and intellect onto a canvas, a chunk of marble, a book.

Writer’s block, the great plague of writers, can be terrifying: as a writer, you begin to doubt your purpose and capacity. There are thousands of easy remedies on the Internet, many of which seem to make sense in theory, but are hardly effective as the writer attempts to regain control of the craft. One common remedy involves the “one-story-per-day” method using writing prompts. One recent writing prompt from Writer’s Digest challenged its readers to write a 500-word story about being kidnapped by Santa. These mental exercises could be fun holiday games, but I assure you that they do nothing to combat the underlying reasons behind writer’s block.

Writing, like all art forms, is never easy: it can be an intense, highly stimulating experience, but it is hardly ever a commonplace one.  If writing prompts are used with the same spirit as one would complete a crossword puzzle—as an enjoyable pastime, in other words—that is perfectly fine. The issue is when writing prompts are packaged as ‘easy-to-do,’ fodder-like creative writing exercises meant to keep your creative muscles supple. These exercises are no different from an artist using a painting-by-number kit: both conceal the underlying problems, creating the false sense that the mental block has been overcome.

[pullquote]The writer makes love to the reader in a paroxysm of sensuous diction and tantalizing metaphors.[/pullquote]

Writer’s block seldom ever means a lack of ideas; quite the contrary, writers are often reaming with ideas.

The issue is the fear we have of truly writing what lies within us. It is difficult to appreciate just how terrified we are of recognizing our own desires and impulses in what we write. We fear being found out, the core of our souls being revealed to our readers. What paralyzes us is what we think will be the judgment of others: will we be spurned as social pariahs for our misshapen thoughts, our twisted characters, and our monstrous conclusions?

Temptation exalts us: our senses are heightened, the blood storms through our veils, and we are alert in this invigorating tension. True writing should a continual temptation:  our beloved characters are cajoled and seduced and put into positions of conflicts by their very contradictory desires; the writer makes love to the reader in a paroxysm of sensuous diction and tantalizing metaphors.

You, the writer, can either take the plunge into the deep seas of your subconscious and face the unknown, or you can continue on the same old path, confining yourself to a predetermined role of what you should and should not be writing. Certainly, following a prescribed path is safer and more reassuring, but how much more fulfilling it is to take control of your own writing.

Writing should always be done without restraint, in an altered state that transcends one’s own ego. And no need for the opium that induced Kubla Khan—the sheer freedom of having regained control of your true desire to write is enough to produce the greatest of all chemical effects.

[pullquote]Writer’s block is not a cessation of writing: it is a maelstrom of creativity that is not being properly channeled.[/pullquote]Writer’s block is not a cessation of writing: it is a maelstrom of creativity that is not being properly channeled.

Writer’s block is not a cessation of writing: it is a maelstrom of creativity that is not being properly channeled. A metal rod can safely divert lightning into the ground because the sudden surge of energy is successfully channeled elsewhere. Writer’s block is the lack of a lightning rod: the creative energy has no release, and so it harms the writer just as lightning would cause a fire to an ungrounded house.

Writing prompts are mere decoys used to distract writers from the true cause of writer’s block: the fear of exposing one’s true self to the world.

The solution? Write with abandon. If you cannot, find yourself a glove that is not yours. Wear it. No one can recognize the hand beneath the glove, not even yourself. A disguised hand, then, free to write wildly surprising things. Shut out the voices that are telling you to stop. Write what you truly want to say, in a fury of passionate madness. There will always be time to reread and edit afterwards.

You cannot have that which you do not think yourself capable of having. Lay claim to that which you want, and you will find a way to get it.

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