The best person to identify why you have writer’s block is you. I’m an external guide, and can only point the way. You have to do the actual work. And it will take work. How to fix your particular case of writer’s block will depend on the reason or reasons you have it.
As you read through this list, you might recognize the reason (or reasons) for your block. Recognition could be a very strong “Yes, that’s me” or a slight ping “Could this be me?”
After each reason, I offer a solution. Not that it’s simple to counter “fear of failure” with “confidence.” It will require time and effort. At least a couple weeks, maybe months, of daily practicing the fix required. But of course you’re worth it.
So read through the list, see what comes up for you, and write it down. You can copy a few words, right? If not, you can always print out this page and highlight the reasons that resonate.
The first reason, tension, is probably true for most blocked writers. It may or may not be accompanied by other reasons further down the list. Because so many blocked writers cannot relax, taking a few minutes to consciously do so will help every blocked writer. Make #1 the first part of your daily unblocking practice.
There’s a place called the creative zone. All artists go there. This zone is much like a meditative state. For unblocked writers, this state is entered into unconsciously and easily. It just happens when you start to write. But for blocked writers, tension, or the inability to relax into the proper state of creativity, inhibits their work.
The Fix: Meditation is not difficult to learn. Simply detach from thought and focus on the breath. You’ll still have thoughts but you don’t follow them or obsess over them. When you notice a thought, label it “thought” and return to the breath, following it as it moves in and out of your nostrils. That’s the sensation you focus on, not your thoughts. After several deep breaths through the nose, not the mouth, relaxation occurs. Now try writing.
2. Indecision (clarity).
But what if you don’t know what to write? Your mind is so busy with a million things that you want to say and which should you say first? Start anywhere. The first words you write after a block will probably not be the first sentence of your novel, the one in your head that you can’t get onto paper.
The Fix: You should feel free to write anything-just the mundane crap you’ve been thinking about, problems at work or in relationships, your health. The important thing is to get the clutter out of your head and onto the paper. This solves two problems: one, you’re writing again and two, you’ve cleared the crap out of your head and now it’s got room to focus on your story.
3. Fear of failure (confidence).
You don’t think you can do it, so why even try? Well, because there’s a little voice inside you that says “I must write.”
The Fix: Take small steps toward your goal of writing again. Take as many days to try to relax as necessary. Then start to write down random thoughts. Some recovering writers stay on this step for months. That’s fine. We’re talking about a life’s practice here. There is no rush. Every day you make some progress, even if it is just taking three good conscious breaths, is a small step in the right direction.
4. Fear of judgment (confidence).
According to Ainslie MacLeod, fear of judgment often occurs in people who fear public speaking. Writing seems closely related to this, as speaking and writing both use words. MacLeod believes that some fears, like fear of judgment, follow us from past lives, that people who fear judgment were likely judged wrongly and harshly in a past life.
The Fix: You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to resolve a fear of judgment. Medical professionals use a therapy called “gradual exposure” to cure phobic patterns, and you can adapt this therapy for your own self-help. Start by writing one sentence a day if that’s all you can do. Gradually increase your output to a comfortable level.
5. Time management (reorganize schedule)
I should have put this first, because it’s the reason I hear the most from writers. But lack of time to write is not really writer’s block. Some people really are too busy. They have jobs and young children and sick parents and demanding love lives. And this is not writer’s block, this is choosing to do other things with your life.
The Fix: Make a list of everything you do in a day. If you don’t have time, make a mental list while you’re doing something mindless, like the dishes. Account for every waking hour. Is there anything you can drop? Two hours of television? Thirty minutes of sleep before the kids wake you up? It comes down to how much you want to write. If you want to do it, you will find the time.
6. Bad Habits (Awareness)
Zoning out with hours upon hours of television, eating junk food, ingesting intoxicants, excessive sleep, obsessive shopping, staying on the phone for hours solving other people’s problems, or partying every night into the wee hours, even one of these behaviors will keep most people stuck.
The Fix: Writing takes energy, so give your body and mind proper care. Exercise. Eat (and drink) right. Healthy habits improve the writing mindset. Never mind all those macho types of writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald who drank themselves to death. They were poor souls who lived for art and partying. A balanced life that includes loving relationships, a cozy place to call home, and a steady paycheck takes a ton of energy. Optimum health insures there’s something left over for writing. How you treat your body impacts your writing life.
7. Lack of Talent (Investigate)
Everyone is born with talent, even if it’s only a talent for trouble. How do you know beyond a doubt that writing is the talent you should focus on? Is it possible to be like one of those awful singers on American Idol who really believe they have talent? Sure it is.
Some people’s brains are wired in such a way that they feel compelled to write. And unfortunately, hypergraphia does not guarantee talent. However, people with hypergraphia don’t get blocked. Their need to write powers through all obstacles.
If a teacher or a friend or an editor has praised your writing, you probably have at least some talent for it. Finally, having a passion for something and the talent to support the passion are usually found together.
The Fix: You can investigate whether you have talent further by joining a writing group and asking for honest feedback from the members. Or take courses or workshops and listen to what the instructor and other members have to say about your work. In workshops that tend to focus on what to fix instead of what you’ve done right, ask others what they LIKED about your work. If they say you’re a great typist, you probably need to work on your craft some more. Patience and practice will get you to the next level.
Reality Check: People can become blocked because they dread the time and effort involved to really make their writing shine. In that case, your writer’s block is telling you something important. You might have a bit of talent for writing, but you don’t have the passion it takes to bring that talent to the next level. And that’s okay. It’s good to know exactly why you’re blocked, what your options are, and whether you might be happier doing something else with your creative energy.
8. Lack of Passion (Mental Clarity)
Depression can sap writing passion. So can some prescription drugs.
I am NOT saying go off your meds!
I’ve had to deal with this issue myself. Depression can play hell with ambition, even if it’s as tiny a goal as getting out of bed in the morning.
The Fix: I repeat, do not go off your meds unless you have medical approval and supervision. I take a couple different medications as a preventative measure against migraine headaches, so I understand people who take medication that wipes out creativity and passion. I’m one of you. Just do your best to get eating, drinking and exercise organized. Exercise, especially yoga, naturally gives me calm energy. And cutting out caffeine, sugar, and alcohol helps too. Becoming a vegetarian also was a big help to me, but I know it’s not for everyone. I have a particularly sensitive system, so not everybody needs to cut out caffeine, alcohol or sugar, either. In moderation, everything is fine for most people. Even an occasional chocolate martini!
9. Insecurity (confidence)
Confidence seems like the cure for so many writerly ills. But how to find it? I read somewhere once that lack of confidence is just another way for the ego to feel special, and that confidence is everyone’s right as a spiritual being in a human body.
“Oh, I’m too shy to put myself out there on the page,” the ego claims. As an introvert, this idea that insecurity is part of my lesser nature horrified me. The blushes, the stammers, the refusing to be part of a group or speak in public, the apologizing for my writing…all of that was my ego happily keeping me small and itself in control.
What if it’s true? What if I am, you are, more than an ego-driven machine? What if we have spirits and souls that want more for us? In that case, it seems a shame to be paralyzed by some egoic trick.
The Fix: I’m smarter than a mere ego. Or if I’m not, I’m going to pretend I am until it feels real.
Ignore the urge to act humble. You’ve got as much right to write as anybody else on the planet. Own your passion. Start by writing. My favorite self-criticism bust is to tell myself everyone writes awful first drafts and nobody ever has to see it but me. With each revision, with every writing day that passes, confidence increases.
10. Fear of Success (confidence)
I had this for most of my life. I actually had flying dreams that terrified me because I flew too high. I didn’t like flying out of my orbit, just like in daylight I didn’t like going too far out of my comfort zone.
Successful people have so many demands on their time. Everyone wants a piece of them. Or at least some of their cash. On a recent webcast, Oprah admitted that often she’s too busy working to enjoy all that success has afforded her.
I think Fear of Success bundles together insecurity, fear of failure, fear of judgment, and tension. How can fear of success have fear of failure as a component? Well, there’s the idea of the sophomore slump. The first book is a bestseller and the next one flops. If you never attain the first, you don’t need to worry about the second.
The rest of the bundle goes the same way: once you succeed in publishing a book, you’ll have to promote it (insecurity!) people will have opinions about it (judgment!) which can lead to tension.
The fix: Learn confidence. Study it. Practice it. Be it. Our thoughts create our lives, so pay attention to what you’re thinking. I’ve heard you should always “fix” a negative thought with two positive ones.
Affirmations are great, so is visualization. Imagine sitting next to Oprah on the same couch where Tom did his famous love jump. Heck, maybe Tom’s sitting next to you. You’re completely at ease. Chatting away.
The brain doesn’t know the difference between vividly imagined events and reality. You can think your way into confidence, and into success.
And when you attain success, you can do it on your own terms. You don’t have to be Oprah-busy. Eckhart Tolle was asked in a recent interview about the impact Oprah’s endorsement has had on his personal life. He admitted that sometimes people recognized him on the street during his long daily walks, even if he wore a cap and sunglasses. He said that was fine, he was happy to talk to them. And he is determined to keep his grounded “in the now” life, walking the streets of his city, enjoying being present, not hiding out simply because he’s found success beyond anything he’d imagined. He’s open to the moment, whatever it brings, just like he’s always been.
I like that. To find success unexpectedly and be as open to it as any other ordinary day.