When I did an interview with Eric Gati of TheDailyInterview, an interview-based blog about entrepreneurship, he asked me how I’ve managed to be so prolific as a writer.
He was talking about our days writing for InfoBarrel. Back in 2010, I published around 1,000 articles in 4 months. Prolific indeed, except most of those articles were outsourced – written by a team of writers I managed all around the globe.
Ironically, I still seem to live up to my reputation, as writer’s block is something I rarely experience any more. This is in part due to a huge, unfair advantage in that I have: having gone through a chronic repetitive strain injury and not talking for 2.5 years, I want to communicate so badly that there’s precious little chance for these blocks to take form.
But we don’t all have the blessing of such a challenge to rely on. We have to rely on more conventional techniques. Never fear, because writer’s block is beatable, and we can do it quickly.
One of the first problems we encounter with writer’s block is the name. The term “writer’s block” implies that there is a single root cause. This is very rarely the case. That’s like saying that eating too many cookies is the cause of obesity. It’s not wrong, but it’s wonderfully incomplete and will have us looking in the wrong direction for a solution.
Writer’s block is more like a collection of super villains that our hero has to overcome than one arch-nemesis.
Writer’s block, the sensation of “I don’t know what to write”, is rarely caused by an actual lack of knowledge, experience, or creativity.
These are usually just stories we tell ourselves as a means of protection from the pain of the underlying, real causes of our blocks.
Usually, these root causes are some sort of paralyzing fear. The way a deer finds itself looking into headlights, we find ourselves unable to write when the pressure becomes too much.
I’ve come up with 6 main reasons we experience writer’s block.
There may be more or fewer depending on our perspective, but in any case this covers most of the psychological territory that inhibits our writing:
1. Self Doubt – If we approach our lives from the perspective that we are broken, not good enough, unworthy, or otherwise having to make up for some intrinsic lack or failing, then we are going to find it really difficult to get writing.
Why? Because we won’t feel like there’s any point. What could we possibly write that would grant us cosmic reconciliation?
If, on the other hand, we are happy with our lives and content about who we are, writing becomes a way to express our joy. There’s no room for friction or doubt.
2. Perfectionism – Trying to be perfect is paralyzing because our writing always has room for improvement. We can always use stronger words, better analogies, better structure and organization, do more research etc.
If we have a target that we know is impossible to achieve, its hard to get into the mindset where we want to try.
3. Ambivalence – Indifference about what we’re doing is an instant mood-killer. Just like indifference is the true opposite of love, it’s the opposite of the energy we need to have in order to take action.
This can happen when we choose topics we feel we’re “supposed” to write about but don’t want to in our hearts. This is why it’s so important that we live our truth if we want to also write it.
4. Disorganization – We may have amazing ideas, but struggle putting them together into something coherent. If I struggle with writer’s block nowadays, it is probably due to this reason over 95% of the time.
If we can’t see a means of expressing our ideas, then the expression isn’t going to take place. Our minds aren’t going to great lengths to create something we believe will only be misunderstood.
5. Fear of Rejection – It’s not as powerful as the fear of public speaking, but the fear of having people reject us for the quality of our work can also be paralyzing. Much safer to do nothing and avoid the risk of the masses ridiculing our prose than stepping into the spotlight, where the tomato-tossers can take their best shots.
6. External Circumstances – Our personal lives can have a big effect on our writing. A breakup, illness, family crisis, or other string of bad luck may pull us out of the mindset necessary for calm creation.
These are some of the real reasons we find ourselves unable to write.
But, just as Batman always found himself in trouble at the end of an episode, even if we’re struggling with writer’s block right now, help is just around the corner.
Alright heroes and heroines, it’s time to find out how to lock away writer’s block for good.
1. Keep an idea journal – I like to keep a small notebook in my pocket to record ideas as they come to me. Whenever I cant decide what to write, its easy to go to my list of ideas and concepts and see what connects the most strongly with what I’m doing now.
2. Bookmark popular posts on other blogs – Good work by our favorite writers may very well inspire our own creative desires. I keep a folder called “blog fodder” in honor of the fact that most great ideas are someone else’s.
3. Create a “writing spot” – When you go to this spot, all you do is write and write is all you do.
Eventually your mind will associate the location with the task, and simply going there will trigger your writing mind.
4. Make a Mind-map of your knowledge – When we get our ideas out of our heads we are able to see things more clearly and make connections we never could have before.
Seeing a map of everything we know about a topic can help us to make an new and interesting connection between bits of information and provide the inspiration we need to get started.
5. Stop focusing on ourselves… – and focus on our ideal audience and what their needs are. This will help relieve any tension or anxiety we’re feeling about whether we’re good enough, capable enough, or smart enough to write.
6. Write about writer’s block – A lame sounding answer. But one of my very first articles published online (way back in 2010) was about eliminating writer’s block – because at the time I had no idea what to write about.
It worked. Now I have the opposite problem – too many ideas to write them all.
7. Reconnect with our purpose – Why are we writing in the first place? Where does our passion come from? What message is it we want to share with the world? When we reconsider why we’re writing we can usually find the energy to say something about the topic we care so deeply about.
8. Don’t write – Saying something when we have nothing to say just wastes time – our own and that of our readers. Sometimes, we simply don’t have anything to create. Take a break and don’t sweat it.
9. Go experience life – When I was studying music at the University of Manitoba, I remember one of my professors talking about how the best players weren’t those who practiced the most and had the best technique, but those who had really experienced a lot in life and had something to say when they hit the stage.
So shake things up, break routine, get uncomfortable, and grow. It will add a fresh perspective to your ideas and your writing.
10. Write badly – Purposely write something that’s terrible. By doing this we can take the pressure of perfectionism off of ourselves and reconnect with our creativity. Then when we’re ready we can write normally again.
11. Get Angry? – Think about the worst practices in your field, the things you’d really like to put a stop to. Things like the objectification of women, the NSA spying on private citizens, or the nasty chemicals in processed food.
Don’t actually cause yourself emotional distress, just access that energy that makes you want to take action and channel it into your writing.
12. Set a deadline – While time pressure has been shown to reduce creativity, its a great impetus for getting things started. The sooner the deadline, the sooner we’ve got to get started.
13. Practice mindfulness – Being mindful of our surroundings and of our selves helps us to reduce stress and tension – lowering the barrier to taking action. It also helps us accept any resistance we do feel and to write in spite of it.
14. Get Positive – Numerous have studies have shown a strong correlation between a positive mental outlook and our ability to be creative. Find a way to get into a positive mindset: meditate, cute puppy videos, triple-chocolate cake, whatever it is that makes you happy. Then come back to the paper when you’re feeling good.
15. Just Start – Russians have a saying: “appetite comes during dinner.” Often we have to start before our desire kicks in. Also – studies have shown that it takes 10-20 minutes for our minds to warm up to a task and become focused.
One we’ve started, the block is broken. So get started.
16. Goof off – It’s hard to find, let alone keep, motivation if we’re hating what we do. Take some time to enjoy life, to be silly, and most of all to connect with the joy of creating something!
And that, for me, is the real secret to eliminating writer’s block, along with all sorts of barriers created by fear, doubt, and uncertainty: If we focus on enjoying ourselves and don’t take things too seriously, it’s easy to relax and go with the flow. Life doesn’t have to be hard, and neither does writing.
Which brings us back to one of the central themes of Cracking The Happiness Code: When we do things because we ARE happy and not in order to be happy, THAT is when our actions fulfill us, and that is when we feel in complete harmony with life.
Happy writing. And write happy.
Have another tip or trick to overcome writer’s block? Leave it in the comments below!