standing by a block

Conquering Writer’s Block: 3 Tricks to Try Today

I have writer’s block so bad it hurts. It is physically, mentally and emotionally painful. The built-up pressure of unwritten words inside has been giving me heartache, brain fog…depression.

Okay maybe the depression and writer’s block are all mixed up with each other and blaming each other for why they’re here. They’re playing chicken, waiting to see who will be the first to leave.

Well, I’m done playing games. I want to be a writer.

No. I am a writer. Damn it.

And hey, would you look at that? I’m actually writing right now. Take that, writer’s block!

But seriously, what are some tangible ways around this problem? How can someone who wants to be a regular writer hack through the obstacles and get their writing groove back?

I am not sure if these will work or not, but I’m going to toss out three ideas and then try them. Join me if you want, and let’s see if we can get around our creative hurdles together.

Trick #1 – Write about Writer’s Block

Yeah, that’s clearly what I’m doing here. But beyond blog articles, we can simply write out lists of reasons why we’re avoiding writing. Jot down what we’ve been doing instead. What is going on in our minds when it’s time to write…and all of this counts as writing, does it not?

From my experience, writing one small thing can be like dropping a spark into a dry stack of wood, lighting everything up and igniting our passion for it once again.

For me right now, all I can say is my mind keeps coming up with excuses why I can’t do it today. Maybe tomorrow, but not today.

“I’m just so busy, and overwhelmed. Beyond parenting and housework chores, there’s much school work to do and when I get home from work I’m wiped out. All I want to do is curl up on the couch with Netflix and dinner with my brain turned completely off.” That’s what my inner dialogue sounds like. Writing feels like thinking and thinking can be draining.

Writer’s block rides on the back of exhaustion.

Not to mention that my house vacillates between two usual states: complete disaster and almost being okay to live in. But it’s never “perfectly” to my liking. The dishes and laundry chores never fully go away. And there are those damned piles of papers and photos I need to sort laying around mocking me whenever I walk by. ’‘Still haven’t gotten to me yet? And you’ve lived here for how long? And you’ve binge-watched how many TV shows in the meantime?”

Yes, my unsorted piles are shaming me.

I promise myself I’ll write once I get this paperwork all sorted and my photos in order and my desk fully organized. Once all the laundry is clean, folded and put away and the storage area isn’t such a calamity.

Yeah right. When will all of that ever be true? It’s just a way to put writing off forever. Decades of excuses can go by in the blink of an eye.

The truth is, if I don’t find time to write in spite of my to-do lists, I will never find time to write at all.

writing block

Trick #2 – Alternate Between PLANNING the Writing and Actually WRITING

I love planning out what I’m going to write even more than I do the physical act of writing it.

Coming up with plot ideas and characters or even entire novels is so much easier inside my head. But doing the work of punching out each individual letter on a keyboard, spell-checking and precisely describing every detail of the story with the limitations of our vocabulary and typing speeds–that is not the fun part (at least not for me).

And all of this is followed by the even less-fun tasks of editing, re-editing, formatting, and re-formatting…then comes publishing and marketing. Ugh.

It can be overwhelming enough to make me want to avoid the entire process.

Ding ding ding! Writer’s block!

Writing opportunities are sporadic these days. I don’t write on a schedule – trying to make myself do that on top of everything else feels exhausting and JOY-sucking.

I tell myself if only I had the freedom to write all the time and not be so distracted by work and life. If only I could be more disciplined and focused. If only, if only… My excuses pile up and threaten to block the emergency exits while guilt chases me down the hall.

But what if everything didn’t have to be so black and white?

What if we didn’t have to choose between “writing” or “not writing”? Perhaps everything in life…or many things at least…could be enlisted in the process of writing.

And thus, we can let ourselves off the hook a little bit too. When has guilting ourselves to do something ever produced our most high-quality work anyhow?

washing dishes

The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

Agatha Christie

Perhaps we can give ourselves a loose “writing schedule” alternating between actual writing and doing something on autopilot (like washing the dishes, folding the laundry, or walking around the block) while thinking and planning the whole time what we will write about afterwards? And all can be done without the guilt usually associated with not writing.

Maybe guilt is one of the key components of writer’s block!

Of course, in order to make this work we need to follow through and do the writing afterwards but it can still be in short bursts, it doesn’t have to be long sessions.

Laundry. Writing. Dishes. Writing. Painting. Writing.

Do you think it will work?

This is an experiment. So, now I’m going to test it right now by taking my dogs out on a walk while thinking about what to write for the final section of this article. Wish me luck it is 10 degrees out there with a foot of fresh snow on the ground. Time to bundle up!

My dog really loves snow
This looks like a good thinking bench!

Trick #3 – Let Go of What the Writing is SUPPOSED to Look Like

Yes, I know, it’s good to be disciplined, to have a plan and stick to it. I try to stay on track with my goals and do the hard things, taking everything one step at a time. But writing is special–magical even. It can be like learning how to play a song on an instrument that will charm a snake out of a basket.

Sometimes that snake might be having a bad day and won’t come out now matter how beautifully we play. Sometimes it seems like our muse is out to lunch or on vacation and nothing inspiring is coming no matter how hard we try or how long we stare at a blank page.

I often get it stuck in my head what I’m “supposed” to be writing about so when it’s time to write, nothing else will be acceptable. If I’m supposed to be editing my book, or writing for the blog or whatever it is, I can be very rigid which likely doesn’t help my writer’s block at all. Some days I’m just not feeling it.

But when it is time to write, perhaps I can instead allow myself to first write anything and everything–however it comes to me–so writing won’t seem like such a daunting task.

Teasing well-written, original ideas out of all these random creative impulses might feel more like a fun treasure hunt than a soul-stealing chore.

No, I’m not planning to drop all obligations and write whatever I want all of the time, but maybe it’s okay to do that regularly. Perhaps it’s actually better to have a mixture of disciplined, intentional writing along with free, open, “anything goes” writing.

Who knows? I may end up loving what I didn’t plan to write even more than what I did.

Starting today, starting now I’m going to allow myself more freedom when I write. More freedom equals more joy and enjoyment of something leads to doing it more! No matter what, if the inspiration is there, I will write it. Whether it’s a poem, a song, or a short snippet of a story—everything might be useful.

What I write might be nothing more than the launching pad for the next great idea or developed into something bigger, filed away under “story ideas“ for future mining. I’m just going to write it now and worry about what to do with it later.

Finding joy in writing

Crumbling Our Writer’s Block Down into Pieces

If we can imagine writer’s block to be a large stone that’s blocking our path, then perhaps it’s possible to break it down into pieces and get past it.

What are the fundamental components of writer’s block? From my experience it is a disastrous combination of self doubt, exhaustion, overwhelm, guilt, shame and endless excuses.

Maybe these elements are different for everyone, but once we understand our writer’s block better, we can examine each thing and ask ourselves questions such as: Where is the self doubt coming from? What is overwhelming me? Why do I feel guilty? What is causing shame? And then we can work to resolve those issues for ourselves.

Whether my guilt comes from doing housework instead of writing or from writing instead of spending time with my children, what is the solution? Shall I alternate between writing and tasks that allow me to plan writing? Do I need to go write somewhere else, away from the house? Set up playdates for my kids?

No matter what the problems or solutions are, as long as I choose with love and make decisions that will bring happiness to me and my family, all is well.

Ultimately I want writing to be joyful and overcoming writer’s block seems linked to that process of finding the joy and letting go of the guilt.

Here’s hoping we can all be successful in sending our writer’s block packing (along with a beautifully written eulogy).

Let me know if the comments if you decide to try any of these methods yourself and whether any of them are helpful. Or you can share other methods that have worked for you!

Sarah Caton

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy listening to our weekly podcast on writing, publishing and living this writer’s life. Voices Rising Podcast is found on all the podcasting platforms.

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Photo credits:
LisaLeah Kelley and Mikhail Nilov from Pexels
Sasint, Pasja1000, RichardMC and Rewrite27 from Pixabay

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