The Five Questions to Ask Yourself When You're Struck by Writer's Block
Some of you have asked me for tips about breaking through writer's block. Now, I'm no expert because, by virtue of being human, I get afflicted by writer's block too. However, as I run a business that relies on me writing things, I've learned to adopt some robust techniques for getting over it FAST.
Now, there are many different types of human so there’s no cure-all guide, but these methods have been tried and tested on me and my clients and we've created some great work (and on time!) so they could work for you too.
If you're in the grip of ol' blocko right now, get a glass of something that hydrates you or and/or makes you happy.
Take a breath.
Now ask yourself these questions:
1. Have I made this project too big?
If it’s a huge endeavour and you’re daunted by its size (a novel or dissertation), prestige (high profile article) or stakes (the sales page that can make you rich), some part of you is not going to want to do it. I don't know why - and let's not procrastinate by analysing it (this time).
My advice? Carve a path of small, solid steps up that mountain. Spend the time planning before you hit the page and the ascent will be easier.
A good way to do this is to work backwards from your goal. So, say it's to write the sales page, you could work backwards from 'Finished sales page - final draft' and rewind through each step to 'Blank page'. Get a big piece of paper or your favourite project management tool (I love Trello) and break it right down. Be really finicky. Factor in breaks. If you feel like you've skipped a step you'll start resisting again.
2. Am I striving for perfection?
Listen to me: perfectionism is crippling. I should know. It's ground me to a halt in the past. But not only will someone jump ahead of you while you were busy wringing your hands (this happened to me with my dream screenplay, ah the pain!), you could actually end up over-editing your work and taking all the life and zest out of it.
Beware that trickster brain of yours, it likes things to stay as they are, no matter how boring/annoying/unhealthy. Consider this: are you using the excuse of perfectionism for unconscious (or conscious) self-sabotage so you don't have to step into the spotlight or push yourself?
Yes, rewrites are essential, and great writing is rewriting in my view, but there comes a point when you have - to - let - go.
Consider it a way of maintaining your mental health.
3. Do I need a deadline? Or some accountability?
Sometimes we have so much time to do things that it makes us feel a little too expanded and relaxed. We can’t focus and we don’t feel the drive to create.
Solution? Create a deadline and make it public. You could also ask a peer/friend/coach to keep you accountable. Just make sure you give yourself a fair deadline – not too far ahead, but not scarily short either.
4. When was the last time I did something I enjoyed?
There’s a pure and childlike aspect to creativity, and for that to be unleashed I find it better not to be too austere and formal. If you haven’t had fun in a while, your creative side may feel a bit dried up, or unstimulated. Could you ditch the work for half a day and look around the local art gallery? Or treat yourself to an alfresco lunch?
I remember taking a day off to go to the local animal sanctuary with my friend Sarah and her boys (pic) – I ended up throwing myself into a ball pit with sheer abandon (those balls are not as soft as they look). I ended up feeling much better about sitting at my desk and my writing flowed more easily.
5. What does my body need?
We live in our bodies and any care we take of them rewards us exponentially. Studies have shown that we only need to be slightly dehydrated for it to affect our focus. So ask yourself this question and break it down if you're feeling a bit vague. Do you need nourishment? Food is closely linked to mood, so sometimes when you’re feeling negative it might just be because you’re hungry, not that you’re having an existential crisis.
Do you need to move? Stretch your limbs, get some fresh air.
Asking questions is a great way to get your brain thinking. Caution: if a little voice answers it needs to go away on holiday and never come back that just might be the old block popping up again.
- If you’ve already written something and feel you can’t continue or edit it. Make it look like you’ve never seen it before. Like Neil Gaiman, I sometimes print my stuff off and find that reading it this way makes it seem new. If you have a lot to print, make it into a PDF on your computer instead of Word, or see it on a different device (tablet, phone) OR leave it a few days so it actually does become new to you.
- JFDI! A former coach gave me this advice - it stands for Just F**king Do It! Sometimes, all you need is a kick up your arse.
- Here are a few more tips from some famous writer types.
- If you'd like some help getting unstuck - check out my latest offer: a pair of my eyes on your words for a fraction of the fee it normally costs!
Now go and break those blocks! x
P.S. Do you struggle with writer's block? Do you have any unusual or interesting tips that work for you? Tell me in the comments below.
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