We’ve all been there at one point or other: faced with a blank screen, cookies in the pantry calling our name, laundry screaming to be done, and we have have no clue what to write about.
We call it Writer’s Block. It stops us from getting a word on paper and leaves us feeling like maybe we’re not as good at writing as we initially thought.
In my case it leads to the over consumption of chocolate and the under consumption of words. I may even wrestle with thoughts of failure.
But how real is this periodic predicament all writers seem to suffer from? Is it simply a lack of inspiration, or is there something more serious lurking underneath?
My theory is it’s all about fear.
Here are 7 steps to help you explore both why you suffer from writer’s block, and how to overcome it.
1. Dig deep
It’s never about the chocolate or the laundry. When you sit down to write and can’t think of even a first word, never mind a sentence, you need to dig deep. Be honest with yourself and ask what’s going on in the moment. Are you distracted by other things in your life? Is there something about the writing project you’re working on that you may be resisting?
Perhaps you are writing your story and finding it hard to relive past experiences. Or maybe you’re writing about a topic around which you don’t feel like you have one hundred percent authority, and you’re afraid of being challenged. We have many fears around our writing, but most of the time it’s this simple: am I good enough? (Tweet that!)
When faced with a blank screen the first thing to do is ask this question: what is really going on for me right now?
Look beyond your to-do list and deep into your heart. What is really stopping you from writing?
2. Challenge your inner critic
Our inner critic is sneaky. It can be so quiet and deep rooted that sometimes you hardly even notice it. Yet that small voice is oh so powerful. My inner critic had me feeling powerless for years before I eventually plucked up the courage to do what I had been longing to do my whole life: write stories.
But I didn’t recognize that it was my inner critic who was having the final word; I simply thought I didn’t have the time and came up with a myriad of excuses—everything from a baby on my hip to determining that I needed to go out and make money first.
And I believed in every excuse, until someone asked me why I really wasn’t writing.
3. Look around you
It may sound crazy but our environment can really affect how we feel about our writing. If you try to write creatively or introspectively in a place where your normally pay the bills or fold the laundry, you may that place lacks inspiration for you. Try a coffee shop, or a different room in the house, or even your local library. Switiching up your environment can make all the difference.
Equally, if you are used to typing all day at work , the thought of coming home and typing all evening might be painful for you. If that’s the case, try writing longhand, or even using a separate laptop.
4. Tap into your creative side
Fellow writer Dana Schwartz recently wrote a wonderful series here called Unpacking your Creative Life, which was all about reconnecting with your creative side after a long hiatus. You may simply need to rekindle that relationship with your creative side.
If that sounds like you, try to remember what used to make you feel creative. Were you inspired by music, nature, art, theatre, deep conversation? When we tap into those things that make us connect with our emotional centre, this is where we find connection with our inner writer (tweet that!)
5. Warm up
If you broke your leg and couldn’t exercise for three months, do you think you would be able to return to walking, running (whatever you may do) with the same strength and speed? Of course not. And would you ever go straight from doing nothing to fifty pushups? No. You warm up first.
Why should writing be any different?
If you just spent the day at work, then played with the kids, then cleaned up the house, can you really expect to just sit down at your computer and be immediately creative? I know I can’t.
My remedy for this is free writing. It’s an easy thing to do and will help clear your head of the day’s distractions. I suggest you do this using a pen and notepad—something abut writing longhand helps stoke that connection to our creative flame. Time yourself for ten minutes and write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s “I don’t know what to write,” or “I feel ridiculous doing this.”
The one and only rule is to keep your pen moving. Do not allow yourself to stop and think. Write all the thoughts that come to mind.
When you’re done you can discard what you’ve written. personally I like to keep my free writes; not only are they often quite amusing, but they help me to determine my state of mind and what may be going on for me emotionally that needs to be dealt with in my journal.
6. Try a writing prompt
Sometimes when I’m resisting the writing project I’m so supposed to be working on, I just need to remind myself that I can do this. And a great way to get out of my “I can’t write this piece” space is to write something else. For that reason I have a book called The Writer’s Devotional, by Amy Peters, which is full of writing prompts, exercises and motivational tips around writing.
Sometimes it saves the day.
Quite often I just need to stop the head chatter and work on something. So I’ll pick a prompt and just run with it. Ten minutes, twenty…it doesn’t matter. The difference between this exercise and a straightforward free write is that these pieces can often be the start of a an essay, blog post, or story. It’s more about being intentional with the words, and less about just letting go and writing anything that comes to mind, as in a free write.
7. Don’t self-edit
Are you someone who writes a sentence or paragraph, stope to read it, then begin rephrasing and replacing words?
That’s the way I used to write. Problem is, it stifles creativity and perpetuates writer’s block.
Try, if you can, to turn off your self-editor when you are first trying to get words on the page. S(he) can make an appearance when you have a first draft of a piece under your belt. But until then, do yourself a favour and don’t even look at what you’ve written.
If you want your words to flow, you must put your internal editor to sleep (tweet that!)
So, what is your biggest challenge when it comes to writer’s block? Do you see yourself in any of the above scenarios?
Do you have any special techniques for kicking writer’s block to the curb?
Share your thoughts in the comments!