Ask any writer if they’ve ever suffered from an acute case of writer’s block and the answer will likely be a resounding YES. Pesky, frustrating, even debilitating, writer’s block feels like the words just won’t come, perhaps ever again. But really, writer’s block is just fear or overwhelm in disguise.
Ironically, much has been written about writer’s block and how to overcome it, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution for getting past the stuckness and back into flow. With that said, I have a handful of quick strategies I use when I’m struggling to make progress on a piece of writing, which include the following:
• Flip open Steven Pressfield’s fantastic book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles to any page and have a read. The title says it all.
• Move around…in my house, to a cafe, the library, a park.
• Set the timer for a reasonable amount of time (fifteen or twenty minutes) and promise myself a much-desired reward if I can manage to write something…anything…for the whole time. Which brings me to…
• Write something…anything. Just keep writing getting and getting something down. (See post The Art of the Shitty First Draft.)
• Go for a walk or run.
• Do something else creative, like work on one of Thomas Pavitte’s 1000 Dot-to-Dots, dive into a coloring book (how cool is it that adult coloring books are the thing right now?), paint, dance, etc. to get the creative juices flowing.
• Know that it’s totally NORMAL and OKAY and DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING about you or the quality / worthiness of your writing. Because it DOESN’T.
In my book Doable, I present what I call a DIY coaching strategy for pushing past procrastination, which is essentially what writer’s block is. Again…it comes from fear, crappy thinking, overwhelm, and a whole bunch of other not-so-helpful emotions.
Here’s what it looks like:
1. The next time you’ve got a case of writing block, brainstorm a list of as many reasons why you are stuck as possible. Let your inner critic (that super unhelpful voice in your head that likes to sabotage you at every opportunity) have a voice and capture each reason, no matter how ridiculous or untrue you know they might be.
2. Pick one of the reasons that clicks with you the most as something that’s keeping you stuck and write it down.
3. Reflect on which emotion(s) accompanies the reason you stated (for example: annoyance, frustration, anger, confusion). Choose an emotion that resonates for you and write it down.
4. Examine the thoughts about yourself that were going on in your head that resulted in the above emotion. Write down as many as come to your mind. (For example, I always get distracted. I never finish anything.)
5. Now consider how those thoughts aren’t actually true. What is the reality of the situation? Can you come up with an example (or a few) that disproves your crappy thoughts? (For example, Okay, I did finish my last blog post. I definitely have periods of creative work where I’m almost focused to a fault.)
6. Now it’s time to come up with your new truth—a statement that reflects what’s actually true in a way that feels positive and optimistic as it propels you forward. Write down your new truth. (For example, I sometimes get distracted, but I generally finish what I start.)
7. Write down that new truth and memorize it. Because when you are focused on that reality as opposed to thoughts that feel bad and keep you stuck, that’s when you start to move beyond procrastination. That’s when things get done.
For more strategies on getting unstuck, check out these posts:
In my next post, I’ll look at what happens once the shitty first draft has been completed: REVISING.