I haven’t gotten writer’s block in over three years.
And it’s not because I’m one of those people who don’t believe in writer’s block — I do. I just don’t think it’s some otherworldly block that keeps us from writing. I believe it’s a tangle of negative emotions that get out of hand and then make everything writing-related seem impossible.
Writer’s block is that creative funk where you keep saying I don’t feel creative, I’ll write tomorrow over and over and over again until tomorrow becomes weeks or months later. It’s easier to blame this lack of creativity and drive on writer’s block than it is to take a good hard look at the negative feelings bugging us.
So, as someone who has successfully worked out the things that are bothering me in my writing life for the past 3 years, I’ve got a few things to share.
FIXING THE CREATIVE FUNK AKA WRITER’S BLOCK
When so many negative thoughts about our creative work build up in our minds, it becomes hard to continuously push the good stuff out and onto paper; it becomes hard to sit down and do what you love to do. And I think it’s this feeling that a lot of people consider writer’s block. Because if the words aren’t flowing, they must be stuck, right?
Well, no. I don’t think your creativity is stuck. I think sometimes writing doesn’t feel like the most magical thing on the planet, so we name these angry, negative feelings like frustration with our stories, self doubt, not having enough time or energy, and burn out with writer’s block. And it’s this feeling — this ugly, frustrated feeling — that I’ve avoided for three years, because when I feel it creeping up, I shut it down. I STOP IT BEFORE IT CAN STOP ME.
frustration with your story
This is more than just a few plot holes. This is being on the verge, on the cusp, of ditching a story for good. It’s when the honeymoon phase ended, like, twelve revisions ago and you’re seriously thinking about a long-term break-up, not one of those wimpy “we should take a break” break-ups you’ve tried before.
Whether or not it’s time to let go to a story is up to you. Sometimes you have to push through the rough patches, other times you have to let go of something before it drags you through the mud even MORE.
If you’re feeling lost and frustrated and it’s keeping you from writing, sit down and ask yourself why.
- Why did you start the story in the first place? — What is it about this story that you love? What made you so excited to start? Does the story still look that way, and if not can you make it look that way again? Or has it outgrown your idea?
- Why does your story matter? — Why does it matter to you? Why do you want someone else to read it? What do you want them to learn from your story, and are they learning it?
If your original whys still ring true, put your writing on hold and dig deeper into the story. FIND the heart of your story and then KEEP REMEMBERING the heart of your story. Focus on that and JUST WRITE until all the negative feelings realize you’ve got something amazing to say. Once you believe that you’ve got a story that needs to be told, the bad feelings will leave you alone.
I could say a lot about self doubt. (In fact, I already have!)
But here’s the most important thing when it comes to self doubt: it’s part of the process.
It’s part of the creative process and part of the storytelling process.
Your self doubt might be saying, hey wait up, what do you think you’re doing trying to write a book? you’re not a writer. Don’t listen to that. If you are writing, you are a writer. If self doubt is keeping you from writing, you need to prove to your self doubt who’s the boss. (Hint: it’s you, you’re the boss)
not having enough time or energy
Finding the enthusiasm to write when you only have 15 spare minutes in between classes is tough. Finding the energy to write when you really need a nap is tough. Writing is already tough, you don’t need a lack of enthusiasm and tiredness to make it even harder.
I used to never have the time or the energy to write. I totally know how it feels to come home already exhausted. I know how it feels to want to eat and sleep and watch TV, but not write.
Since I was too unmotivated to write in the afternoons, I started to wake up early and write in the morning. It started with just 10 minutes. Then it moved up to half an hour. Now, I get anywhere from one to two hours of writing done before I have to go anywhere for the day.
If you ever find that you’re too tired to write, try writing in the morning before the rest of your day can drain you.
Make sure you’re not producing more than you’re consuming. Because that’s what I think burn out is.
Burn out happens when you’re spending more time checking off your to-do list than you are consuming art. Consuming life.
If you find that you can’t produce any art, try looking at what other people are making — not just stories, but TV and movies and music and pictures and paintings, too. Sometimes the creative funk comes from a lack of inspiration. If you want to write about life, you need to live a little.
THE FOOLPROOF METHOD FOR NOT GETTING WRITER BLOCK
You have to show up for yourself.
You have to KEEP showing up for yourself.
And here’s the really big secret: You have to keep showing up for yourself EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT.
You beat writer’s block by (here’s the ironic part ..) writing. You beat writer’s block by realizing your creativity and drive is bigger and better than whatever negative notions are keeping you away from your story.
You beat writer’s block by doing what you’ve been telling yourself is impossible: writing.
tricks for writing through the writer’s block
- You don’t have to write everyday, but make a plan for when you will write, and then honor that plan — You don’t even have to have a word count goal, you can make it a timed goal. You can make the goal to just sit down and get some writing done. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to perform, just start with the simple act of showing up.
- Tell yourself you’ll only write for 5 minutes — Once you start going, you won’t be able to stop. And if you do feel like stopping, that’s fine, too! But remember who’s in charge of your story – it’s you.
- Change up your routine — Write at a different time. Write somewhere new. If you always type, write longhand. If you always write longhand, try typing. If you use Scrivener, try Microsoft Word. If you want to get out of a rut, try something you’ve never done before.
- If you’re really stuck on your story, write literally anything else — A sentence. A poem. A flash fiction. A short story. ANYTHING to remind yourself that you can in fact write. Throw perfection out the window.
I know, it doesn’t make sense. You have writer’s block, you can’t write, so how is writing going to get it to go away? That’s the catch 22.
This is what I believe: writer’s block isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you’re doing to yourself subconsciously. Writer’s block is an easy scapegoat, but it’s not something that just happens to you for no reason what so ever. It’s probably coming from some negative lie you’ve been telling yourself and slowly buying into.
Maybe it sounds harsh, but as someone who spent about 9 months of their life not writing even when I still had bit publishing dreams, the only thing that got me back in the game was sitting back down to write again. I realized I couldn’t get back to writing whenever I felt like it, I had to make myself start again. I wasn’t going to find my way back by a strike of inspiration, so I found my way back to writing with sheer determination.
And ever since then, I have not gotten writer’s block. I show up every weekday (because that’s my promise with myself) and I write, because I know that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to be a writer, and that’s what it takes to beat writer’s block.