Speak Your Way Past Writer’s Block

Photo by Steve Johnson

Photo by Steve Johnson

Explore how vocalization can stoke your creativity and rekindle your ability to write.

It’s no secret that writing, in whatever capacity, is a tremendously impactful practice. No matter one’s style or preferred topical inclination, writing affords us a greater understanding of ourselves and the universality of that which surrounds us.

However, it’s one thing to intellectualize the benefits inherent to a practice, and another entirely to consistently implement a technique.

I consider myself a highly disciplined person. Every day for over 2 years, I’ve written something (even if only a few words here and there). In spite this now being a deeply engrained habit, I am often left feeling stuck when the difficulties inherent to the human condition inevitably find me in a rut.

Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, once eloquently noted (in answering readers’ questions for The Times) that writer’s block is a natural part of the creative process. Lahiri conveyed that she has written long enough to accept such patterns, and that sticking to a schedule and writing consistently will inevitably see one through to the other side.

Sometimes you may need a break to let your mind wander, reset, and return refreshed.

Other times, though, it may be negative self-talk that you’re unable to write or rest your way out of.

It’s because of such days that I’ve sought and experimented with various techniques that may help me rip off the metaphorical writing bandaid and stoke my creative flow.


Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov

I was spending time with a friend of mine who proclaims to be rather technologically averse; texting is not his forte, what with his utter determination to use no more than one finger whilst typing, so he tends to employ the dictation feature on his iPhone to compose his messages.

As he was speaking aloud in a cafe, I found myself intrigued by how natural it seemed to create a text that way. I myself had several messages that I’d been meaning to reply to for some time, all of which I’d kept pushing off. So I opened my phone and spoke aloud my responses.

As I did, other thoughts began to develop. Ideas for essay topics (I was in school at the time), blog articles, and workshops. Having been in the midst of a bout of creative frustration, these unbidden ideas were welcomed warmly.

This recognition led me to vocalize my thoughts more frequently. Ideas that arose, seemingly at random, would be recorded as my days progressed. Things that I had otherwise typed on my phone, written (if I remembered them later) in my journal, or forgotten altogether, were now spoken aloud.

I often employ this practice when I’m driving, walking, or sitting somewhere in the woods. These are instances in which I give my mind permission to wander, and which thusly beget inspiration. I don’t carry a journal or laptop with me, typing seems detached at times, and so I naturally gravitate towards speaking my thoughts aloud.

The ubiquity of recording devices (e.g. your cell phone) make this practice possible anywhere, and at any time that creativity strikes. Herein lies much of the beauty, for me, of this practice.

When one writes, especially by hand, focus tends to be singular. This is wonderful, calming, meditative and, more-often-than-not, productive. But adding a vocal aspect to written work can charge one’s content with sensory and emotional energy that, in my experience, wouldn’t otherwise be there.

When I play or read the words I speak at a later time, the impact they have on my writing is tremendous. They grant a vastly different perspective, and help me identify a tone that I might not otherwise have consciously known I wanted my work to possess.

The Overwhelm of a Blank Page

I often struggle to start writing. Blank pages can prove overwhelming, an apt metaphor for how fresh starts and new experiences can be overwhelming in our lives.

Simply put, vocalization gets me writing again. Speaking or listening to my own words begets thought after thought, word after word, until I reach the point where I at least have far more than a blank page to work with.

When I’m feeling stuck, I find it a lot easier to blabber nonsense into my microphone than I do writing until my hand cramps (which brings about long forgotten trauma from sitting the SATs…bleh).

Speaking has offered me a medium through which I can more easily identify what it is that I’m trying to say. It has changed the way that I relate to content creation, and to these blank pages. I come through in different ways, and am able to reign in my often hyper-active mind to direct it in a more intentional way.

Your Only Audience is You

Photo by Angel Origgi

Photo by Angel Origgi

The benefits of speaking my words aloud come through more concretely for me when my only audience is myself. While something like journaling may offer a similar benefit, I find that many people rarely speak unless there is another person or animal in their presence. Speaking, recording, and listening to ourselves in solitude can therefore offer us a fresh perspective, something that can be particularly useful when we’re otherwise unable to produce our best work.

Whether it be journaling, singing, or speaking, I find it easier to be honest when I am my only audience. Our energetic interactions with others are incredibly subtle, and so mental expression with a lack of external influence is, in many ways, a necessity for creative output that capitalizes on one’s individuality and talent.

Furthermore, I often say a lot without actually saying much at all. This practice has helped me articulate myself, to slow down, and to be grateful for the impact that each word can have (both on myself, and on others).

Going Forward

Words have power. We each have an offering of worth to impart on this world, and it is my hope that a blank page doesn’t obstruct this offering.

I have come across many people, myself included, whom get overwhelmed at the prospect of writing. When instead of starting, we lose ourselves in the majesty of some grand, abstract idea. In the logistics, the SEO, the title, the color scheme.

Intention is wonderful, but if we don’t act, and keep pushing things to ‘later’, the more daunting a prospect becomes. It builds and builds and builds, creating an internal dialogue of I am not good enough, and no one cares what I have to say anyways. Simply getting started can change this.

The next time you catch yourself, going back-and-forth between which hue of blue is going to get you 1 million followers, or you’re sitting on the train watching cat videos, or driving to work, or taking a walk to the grocery store, just speak to yourself.

I hope your ramblings help you. Please share your thoughts, and let me how it goes ; )