Become Friends with Your Writing Cramps

Writing Cramps

Do the words stop coming to you? Are you paralyzed by doubt and low self-esteem? Author and playwright Barbara White knows how it feels. Here she shares her advice for resolving the cramp.

According to Ghostwriting Solution, why do you write? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are authors. I have author friends who say they write because they love words. Others claim the opposite, that they are driven by a hurtful relationship with language – a feeling that words are never really enough – which they try to heal through writing.

For my own part, after some crisis in my writing life, I am at home in group number two and have set up my writing routine accordingly. It has taken me almost thirty years but nowadays I know a little more about what kind of writer I am.

I know that I am not one who writes fluently fast and easy, rather one who writes slowly, one word at a time and at times not at all. How many times have I not been left with a feeling that no word in the world can come after what I just wrote. As if the words got stuck somewhere on the road between his head and his hands. If the feeling lasts longer than a day, I have ended up in the condition that is usually called dysgraphia.

There are writers whose writing cramps come as a crisis, once in a lifetime, and then never again. For me, the writing cramp works more like a chronic allergy. Properly treated, it can be kept in check for such long periods that I have time to forget it.  Which comes from nowhere a new relapse.

If you are the smallest like me, if your desire to write in periods feels so much greater than your ability to get the words out of you, you may have thought the idea that writing is not for you. Why bother if you do not have the ability at all?

But before you throw away all your half-written documents, all the carefully chosen initials and draft novels, it may be time to try to look at your writing cramps in a new light. Maybe it’s for you, as for me, that the writing cramp is part of your writing process.

Becoming friends – or at least politely acquainted – with your writing cramp may sound like an insurmountable, almost ridiculous task, as long as the cramp lasts? Right then, it just feels meaningless, tearing and paralyzing.

But the first thing you need to do when the seizure sets in is make a wholehearted decision: do you want to write or not?

If you long for writing, writing is the thing to do. It is the only necessary condition – some kind of longing. You must have it with you. The rest is solved gradually.


What can be done to better reconcile your doubts? A common view of dyslexia is that the best way to solve it is to write free.

“Write, just write,” they say well-meaningly.

“Do not censor! Let it flow. ”

But not all inner critics are so easily silenced. For those who are drawn to the heavy kind of doubt, it may instead be a good idea to go in the opposite direction: close down all writing activities, take a step back – a week, a year – for as long as you now need. Does it feel like a drastic step? As if you gave up after all? No, this is not the end of your writing life. Instead, see your writing break as a fast, an active break when you change course and approach writing from another angle.


In this situation, it can be good to get good advisors; friends who can be a company and put your silence in perspective. At a time when so many of us live with our hands glued to the keyboards, in the never-ending stream of text messages, tweets and status updates, it’s easy to take writing for granted and take it for granted that words will flow when I need them. . There are many in the literature who have a different experience.


A book that has become my best friend when I end up in a writing spasm is Göran Tunström’s In the meantime, a book of thoughts about memory, illness and writing that puts the inability to write in a larger, existential perspective.

Another text that I like to read is taken from The Self and the World by Birgitta Trotzig. This is about feeling the inadequacy of the language, about lying on beds, sofas, chaise lounges, staring at the ceiling and waiting for the right words. Trotzsig writes:

“Language difficulties? That is the relationship to reality. “

It’s the best explanation for writing cramps I’ve come across.

The great thing about reading Trotzig or Tunström is that they make me look up and put the writing difficulties in a larger perspective, which ultimately has to do with life itself. No matter what the reason for your particular writing spasm – whether it’s about your personal fear or a feeling that the words are not enough for what you want to tell – the solution   always lies in broadening the perspective. In the writing spasm situation, the gaze shrinks. You get tunnel vision, forget why you write and what to tell. The cure is called curiosity. It is the one you must cultivate during Lent.


I borrowed the idea of ​​a workbook from my friend the visual artist; a developed version of the small notebook that many writers carry with them. In the workbook you should collect everything – and then I mean everything! – Who for one reason or another speaks to you? Not only notes but also pictures, inspiring rubbish, stuff you find, replicas you hear in town. Do not worry about why you get stuck for one thing or another. Just collect everything that interests you.

In the large variegated material that you will have after a few weeks of collecting, you may find a thread to pull in – a spread, a whim – that you feel like developing in a text. Now immediately or in ten years. If not, it does not matter. The point of the workbook is not that it should lead to concrete book projects, but rather that it should help you find your way back to what is the starting point for all writing: your interests and deepest passions.

At times when I cannot write, I can at least cut and paste. Browse the workbook often. I always carry it with me along with a glue stick and a small pair of scissors.


Eventually, something will change. It does not feel like that when the cramp is at its worst but I know from personal experience that it will happen.   It may take a month, or a year, but if you persevere, you will eventually reach a point where the desire to write is greater than the doubt. In that mode, it’s time to return to the desk.

When you feel that the desire to write begins to return, it can be a good idea to notice what exactly you need to keep writing. Where does your printer energy come from? From upset states of mind in noisy environments? Or are you more like me and work best in quiet rooms, asleep, warm and full?

Do what you need – consistently! Avoid the rest.

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