Why I find definition essays to be the perfect solution to overcoming writer’s block.
At one time or another, writer’s apathy has dragged us all down. The usual tips and tricks to get writing won’t work. The apathy takes hold and suddenly we find that we suffer from blank page syndrome. Fortunately, I’ve found a few ways to resolve that apathy. Perhaps the best way of overcoming this sort of mental block is to take a word or phrase, then break down its meanings to better understand the true meaning of a word’s implications and connotations.
What I’m suggesting is essentially a definition essay; these are my go-to whenever I’m struggling to find traction with putting any of my ideas into writing. In this case, I chose the word ‘resolve’ because it’s been a word that’s been on my mind recently. Interestingly enough, one definition of ‘resolve’ does mean to break something down, making this word a simultaneously ironic and perfect topic for a definition essay.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, resolve can be either a noun or a verb. In its noun form, it simply means “a firm determination to do something.” When I think of resolve in this way, it tends to lead to dents forming in the wall and slight concussions to my brain. Simply resolving to resolve in that way often leads to a loss of sanity when it comes to overcoming writer’s apathy.
As a verb, resolve becomes a fair bit more juicy, with three potential definitions.
Definition #1: Settle or find a solution to a problem, dispute or contentious matter.
Trying to resolve writer’s apathy through being diplomatic with myself has always been a fleeting temporary fix for me. Forcing myself to write typically involves rewarding myself somehow, especially when the reward is getting paid and being able to eat. Unfortunately, my writing never works well when it’s forced into a routine or schedule.
There needs to be some internal thrust behind the words I write or they simply fall flat. I may get an assignment done, but I realize it’s not my best work. Worst of all, sometimes, the clients will make that very clear and suddenly I find myself without writing work.
Settling for any less than my best rarely works for me, either. With my writing, I feel I always have to be going somewhere. Much of my writing process involves a stream of consciousness brain dump; I have to let the ideas fall where they may and not force any sort of structure on them. But, when you’re forced to write for pay, which is often meager enough that it’s likely not worth the bother, you find that you have to regurgitate just enough to get your pay.
For those that have wished me in the past to write more regularly for jobs, I resolve to simply let the mercurial nature of my words remain. I don’t wish to find myself forcing out syllable after stressed syllable just to meet a deadline. This is why I eventually quit freelance writing and decided to focus instead on helping others with their SEO and overall content strategy, which is what I do now with my own personal website and a few others.
Definition #2: Decide firmly on a course of action
So, it already seems I’ve resolved one way out of writer’s apathy; that is, to be apathetic to conventional wisdom when it comes to forcing out the words onto the page. Sure, it works for some people, but many of us are not “some people.”
Sure, I can grind out a few hundred words a day. But, even then, my writing sometimes still leaves me feeling quite unfulfilled. Perhaps, it’s time I resolve to resolve what I’m looking to actually get out of my writing, huh?
Now, if you’re in a situation where you must write for pay, it’s now time to evaluate what type of content you are producing. You need to able to resolve what you can provide best rather than simply taking what you can get simply for pennies on the dollar. While you may have fewer assignments, it’s very likely, those assignments will pay you better; thus, by resolving to be resolute about what you’re best at, you make your content better and your best clients happier.
Definition #3: Separate or cause to be separated into components
Conveniently, the Oxford Dictionaries’ third definition of resolve fits this train wreck of thought perfectly. So, let’s resolve writer’s apathy by this definition.
- I don’t care about what I’m writing
- I don’t care who I’m writing for
- I don’t care if I write at all.
Sadly, that is pretty much writer’s apathy when it comes to me. It typically follows this beaten path with everyone, I’m sure. Usually, I begin with losing interest in a topic I’ve been assigned or even one I resolved to write for myself. Then, I lose focus with who I’m even writing for. Many times, I’ll simply write something for my own sake to keep myself productive. After a bit of that, I simply don’t care to write at all.
Sometimes, various degrees of fatigue and manners of unavoidable circumstances contribute to writer’s apathy, and these things can sometimes be beyond our control. Still, if you find yourself falling into the same pattern of fatigue and bad circumstances, you have to resolve how to change what you’re doing to get a better result. Most of us, writers for hire or not, have been in this exact spot more than once in our lives.
The truth is, you have to sit down and be honest with yourself. While admitting that you’ve been screwing up is at first sure to make us feel somewhat pathetic, the only way to resolve apathy is to break down every aspect of your life and reevaluate it. Only then can you begin to identify where things are going wrong, where they’re going right, and how you can resolve to lean into the positive and make the best of the negative.
So, let’s circle back to our first verbal definition. How do we find solutions to these three components? What sort of esoteric abstract chemist’s madness can we resolve here?
(First, a quick aside. The Middle English origins of the word resolve in fact derives from the sense of dissolving or disintegrating something… or to solve a problem… the more common definition. In Latin resolver means something like expressing intensive force to loosen something. So we are delving into the very root of this word it would seem.)
Find something to care about and stick to it. Even if the topic itself is something you couldn’t care less about, resolve to write in such a way that it makes you care about the prose you’re producing. This can go a long way to beating the apathy upfront, giving purpose to the task even if it’s not something you would otherwise care about. The more you learn to stretch your boundaries, the more flexible and dynamic your skills will become.
Know your audience, even if that audience is just your close friends and family, or even just yourself. Sure, understanding your audience is one of the major pillars of being a good writer. Sadly, you’re not always going to care about what the audience of a particular assignment really wants. But, going out of your comfort zone can be a healthy dose of medicine for the apathetic writer.
You need to care less about the topic itself and more about your growth as a communicator of ideas and the growth of those reading your work. Your job as a writer is to plant seeds of knowledge. You can’t always make readers care, but if you care about what you are writing, and make the effort to do your best, it shows in the work.
“Just write” sounds good in theory, but is it in practice? It’s a cruel irony in writing that the only way to improve is to write, even if it blows chunks. Whenever I force myself to write something, it may appear OK to readers, but it’s probably just another piece of content in their eyes. Keep in mind as you write that the better your writing is, the more that you help your reader visualize your ideas; the better your ideas are presented, the better service you’re doing your audience.
After all, reading is the best way to benefit the human mind. Make sure that the words your readers are resolving in their minds are worth their valuable time on this earth. Otherwise, you’ll grow weary of the uninspired prose you’re coughing up and apathy will set in. Then, heavens forbid, your clear apathy towards your work will lead to lacking any sort of motivation to turn out anything resembling your best work, never mind the promise of a paycheck.
So, what is my best resolution to overcome writer’s apathy? Just write, naturally; but, you must also resolve to write in such a way to break down your concepts and find fresh, new perspectives on the topic at hand. This continues to be my best trick for resolving such writing apathy once and for all.
When I resolve to write these definition types of essays, I often wonder what may be lost in translation for my non-English readers. The very “rich” nature of my native language opens itself up to a wide array of possibilities for definition essays. In other words, so many English words have so many different official and unofficial definitions that there are many angles for these essays to take.
But, I believe the way I choose to resolve writing these essays makes it easy to follow my foray into the English definitions and how I personally interpret them. Definition essays work for any language, by the way. As I’ve learned over my decades of dabbling in the written word, no matter how well you think you know your own language, you just have to dig a bit deeper.
Perhaps, this sort of self-discovery through better learning our language’s definitions is what every writer needs once in awhile. We need to question the very words we use every day and put them in perspective, no matter what language we may use. After all, the words we have are one of the most important tools we have in relating our ideas to others. So, just as a painter, sculptor, or musician knows their tools inside and out, so should the writer.
What does the word resolve mean to you?