How to defeat writer's block (before it defeats you)
I like to imagine writer’s block as a literal, giant wooden block that appears on my desk each morning. I come ready to write, and the block greets me with a smug grin (doesn’t every writer’s block have a face?). As I attempt to shove it off the fresh, blank page it is squishing, I realize it won’t budge. Throwing my pen at the block in frustration, I shout, “I got dreams, man!”
Minutes turn to hours. Hours to weeks. Weeks to months. No matter how long I wait, that block doesn’t move. I go to sleep and wake up staring at the block. I rest my bowl of macaroni and cheese on top of it as I binge watch a show, because I can’t write. Every day I feel more and more unfulfilled and angry at myself and at the block. “Why won’t you go away?” I scream at it. Its stupid grin never leaves.
You might have your own block greeting you each morning with its own stupid grin. I understand what that feels like. But I am also here to tell you that overcoming the block is POSSIBLE. I know this because one day I decided that I HAD to write to be truly happy so this block HAD to go. Using some surprisingly simple solutions, I learned to free myself from the block time and time again. I started to feel empowered rather than frustrated. Most importantly, I started writing again.
So many writers and artists I know feel blocked and unhappy because they can’t express their story or explore their ideas.
There are solutions that can help writers overcome whatever block that arrives on their desk each morning. I want to share some of the solutions that I’ve discovered with you today, so you can FREE THE WRITER (ahem, that means you!).
Block #1: Procrastination
Humans are super good at delaying projects that actually matter to them. For example, I want to write a blog post, and I say, “Well, I need to research, don’t I? Cite those sources, baby!” Under the guise of productivity, I fall down the rabbit hole of article after article. I jump between a million open browser tabs, ingesting all of the information. Before I know it, I spend all day reading OTHER people’s posts instead of writing my own. And because I take in so much content, I feel overwhelmed, like that feeling you get when you eat too much at Thanksgiving and can’t bring yourself to move off the couch.
For me, feeling overwhelmed and procrastination always go hand and hand (they’re pretty much best friends). It is so easy to grab their other hand and walk with them down the path of least resistance (which usually involves meaningless distractions and a lot of NOT writing).
So what do we do to free the writer from the block of procrastination? We grab our Axe of Truth and Word Power and chop that sucker up, baby!
A block is a lot less heavy and easier to move when it is chopped up. Divide your project into smaller pieces. Instead of setting the goal of “writing a book,” set the goal of “defining your overall message.” Instead of “write a blog post,” set the goal of “freewriting for 15 minutes about your topic.” As you chop that block into smaller pieces, you will feel less overwhelmed and your temptation to procrastinate will at least decrease. It may not completely disappear, but you have the Axe of Truth and Word Power. Nothing can stop you now! Muahahaha!
Block #2: Perfectionism
Perfectionism is the art of setting really high expectations that can never be achieved. And I don’t want to brag or anything, but I am a true artist of perfectionism and I have a lot of perfectionist friends. So I am an expert in this field. Toot! Toot! (That’s the sound of my own horn.) And an expert always has a case study on hand:
Let’s say that you want to write a book (uh oh, this case study is about you...we’ll see if it is accurate). The first week you spend countless hours studying how to write a catchy book title. You first attempt to actually write the title is garbage. So much so that a raccoon sneaks in your room and starts gnawing on the page. Oh wait, maybe you should write the title AFTER writing the book. Good idea, you high five yourself.
The next week you come across an article about book cover design. Do you hire someone or design your own? You play around on your computer and spend hours creating what ends up to be a mediocre design that you trash anyway before realizing you don’t need a book cover for a book you haven’t written and silently chuckle to yourself about it all. The chuckle turns to tear. Just allergies. Just. allergies.
Needing a little bit of reassurance, you turn to social media. Your post about how we have such a tendency to procrastinate and aren’t we funny gets 100 likes. Meanwhile you scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll. The next week you decide to really focus, this is your week, so you start working on an introduction. You write your first sentence. Delete. Try again. Not catchy enough. One more time. Oh man, this has no pizzazz. By the end of the week you have written a paragraph.
You can’t help but think wow, one month of work and all you have is a crappy title, some information about book cover design, and one paragraph without pizzazz. Utterly defeated, you make a nice cup of herbal tea and wallow in your sorrows. Maybe you should give up your dream. No one will read it anyway. You just aren’t good enough.
Does this sound anything like you? Man, I’ve been there many a time. Doesn’t perfectionism just get your goat? Expectations are sky high but we can’t seem to loosen up. Sometimes we don’t even know that we have unrealistic expectations. We feel like a mess.
How do we shove the block of perfectionism off our desk? Set that stupid block of wood on fire!
The moment you light a match and watch your block go in flames, you will feel empowered to start writing again. It may sound dangerous, but oh boy, it feels so good.
Lighting a match is the equivalent of giving yourself a space to write freely. For example, I write my topic at the top of a blank page and give myself 30 minutes to write down everything that comes to mind. Because I’m writing so fast like I’m on fire (See where the fire comes in? It is like you are playing hot potatoes with words. Okay, the analogy died there.) and my perfectionist mind can’t catch up.
The perfectionist yells, “You spelled that wrong.” And you swat it away, “Leave me alone, I’m freewriting.” The perfectionist nudges, “You skipped the introduction? But you have to do it all in order!” You say, “Take a backseat, I’ve got this.” During that space of 30 minutes, the block of perfectionism is merely ash (or dust in the wind if you like Kansas). It may pop back up as you revise, but hey, in the span of 30 minutes, you’ve written more than you have in the last month (remember that paragraph without pizzazz?). As you practice creating more and more space free of your perfectionist, you’ll be able to write and it may even become fun again!
Block #3: Fear
Occasionally I find a giant block of fear on my desk. Gulp. Fear paralyzes me. It makes me want to crawl under the block, crush myself and my ideas, and never write again. Fear says, “You’ll never write a book as good as so and so.” “Check out the statistics of how many writers get published. Who’s afraid now, son!” “No one cares about what you write. No one will ever see it. Trying is worthless.” I’m reduced to rocking back and forth in a corner as far away from the pen as possible.
You know what I realized about most of my fears? I won’t make you guess. My fears are all connected with what other people think about what I write. I thought that once I grew out of my teenage years, the fear of what other people think would magically disappear, but it never did. I look around me and see so much fear in everyone. People try to prove their value to everyone around them. Why do we do this to ourselves? Can’t we write just for the sake of writing? When we write, we learn, we create, and we feel happy. Why can’t that be enough?
Unfortunately AND fortunately, writers want their message to be meaningful to people. A meaningful message matters (say that 10 times fast). A book that no one reads seems like a failure and the world tells us that it is. But writing and finishing a book is a miracle. At least we are trying. Yet fear distorts our goals and motives and turns them into one giant sludge of “you will never be enough.”
How do we shove the block of fear off our desk? Ask a friend for a little help. A second pair of hands to move a heavy block does wonders.
Create a community of supporters. Collaborate. Share. Instead of seeing other writers as competition, actively make the choice to make them friends. Everyone experiences fear and imposter syndrome. Sharing your experiences and giving each other encouragement will comfort and inspire you. You will know you are not alone. You will have the courage to continue writing. Even after a community helps you move the block off your desk, you may see it out of the corner of your eye and it may always be there, lurking. However, it can’t block you from your writing, and if it tries, people will help you move it again. Writers need other writers.
I don’t want you to be blocked for as long as I was. I want you to be free. That is why I’m writing blog posts and creating other free content to help you every single week. If you need a little motivation or a new way to free yourself from the blocks that hold you back, feel free to sign up for the weekly emails. They will give you a boost when you need it. Again, writers need other writers. I would love to have you as a part of this community.
When you sign up, you will also get the FREE THE WRITER’S guide to overcoming procrastination, perfectionism, and fear which includes even more tips and tricks to get those blocks off your desk.
Do you have any strategies that have helped you overcome writer’s block?
Leave them in the comments below.