So you want to write a book, or a short story, or maybe you simply crave a daily personal writing practice to help you keep your mental health in check, especially during these difficult times. But you don’t seem to be able to develop a routine, you are feeling uninspired, or maybe you think you are not ready yet to write. And maybe you blame it all on writer’s block.
If that’s you, I have good news for you. Writer’s block is not about your ability to write good prose. Writing is a skill and like everything else, it takes commitment, practice and routine. Writer’s block is a question of mindset.
Here’s what I’ve learned about writer’s block and how to overcome it.
1. Writer’s block is about mindset not talent
I am a classic procrastinator who gets up in the middle of a paragraph to make a banana smoothie. Or worse, to scroll through my Instagram feed. As Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us, writer’s block often happens because of boredom, because, let’s face it, writing can be quite tedious. Nobody writes brilliant prose in the first draft. And yet you have to allow yourself to write the ‘vomit draft’ as Marion Roach Smith calls it, so that you can move on to the second draft.
Writers block is also about allowing self-doubt to get the upper hand. We are our own worst critics. Pay attention to your inner self talk. Does anybody else speak to you that harshly?
And then there is perfectionism that toxic enemy of creativity. Your first draft will not be perfect and neither will be the second draft. It’s about chipping away at it, slowly, one draft and one word at a time.
“I usually get blocked because I’m bored with my writing, bored with myself…Here’s how I get out of it: I remind myself that a great deal of the creative process is about sitting through your boredom.”Elizabeth Gilbert
2. Silence your inner critic
The inner critic, your analytical mind, has its place when it comes to editing your writing. But to get the words down, you need to feel free to write that shitty first draft. You need to allow yourself to let go of control so that you can write from your unconscious mind and tap into your inner creative well.
Trust me, your creativity doesn’t live in the same part of your brain as your analytical mind, but you’ll need both parts of your brain to get the writing done. Let the logical mind tell you about routines, let the unconscious mind do the writing.
Successful writers like Elizabeth Gilbert have learned to put their inner critic in its place and to create a respectful relationship with it. Don’t allow it to interfere with your first draft! Your first draft should be messy and it should be for your eyes only.
All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line.”Erica Jong
3. Create a routine
Writing is a skill that can be learned and that will improve with practice. Lots of practice! And like with anything, in order to practice we need to create a routine.
That might sound counterintuitive. Shouldn’t writing be about creative expression, something that can not be scheduled you might say. But if writers only wrote when they felt inspired, our libraries would be sad, empty places.
Depending on your writing goals, set aside some fixed writing time. Make it part of your schedule, write it into your diary and make it an unbreakable appointment. You might only need 15 minutes every morning to get your Morning Pages done. Or you might write every morning for two hours.
I know a lot of busy mums who get up before the kids do in order to cram some writing time into their mornings. That leaves very little time for writer’s block. It’s a bit like putting your gym clothes out the night before. That way in the morning you just get up and do it, you don’t have time to ponder whether you are feeling inspired or not. Over time these pockets of writing time build up.
4. Go for a walk, take a break
Take a break and do something else. But don’t allow other voices to crowd your head. Don’t scroll through your social media, don’t get on your phone to chat with a friend. Do something on your own. Get away from your desk, bake a cake, go for a walk,take a shower. Then come back and continue to push the pen across the page.
When we do something monotonous like walking or showering, our brains switch to autopilot mode, leaving our subconscious mind free to wander and to daydream. That’s often when the best ideas come to us.
When we take a break we create a gap, a space for new words, ideas and sentences to come in. They have to reach you all the way from your subconscious mind. Don’t get distracted by chatter, make it a solitary break, allow yourself to daydream.
“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”Kurt Vonnegut
5. Freewrite to overcome writer’s block
Freewriting to a timer is about letting go of control for a set amount of time. It trains you to write fast, without paying attention to grammar, punctuation or spelling. You can worry about that later. It helps to create momentum and to place you into the writing flow. There is no better feeling!
I’ve had many moments of wanting to toss my writing into the bin as I am working my way through my memoir. Freewriting without feeling self-conscious is my go-to for smashing through writer’s block. I might be writing about something totally unrelated to my book, but the act of writing seems to activate new pathways in my brain and it helps to build muscle memory.
Or use Hemingway’s advice and write one true sentence.
Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.Ernest Hemingway
Do you have any tips for overcoming writer’s block? What’s your biggest struggle?
Share with me in the comments.