Overcoming Writer’s Block


Writer’s block stinks. There’s no two ways about it.

Get SOMETHING on paper!

You know you have to produce something for an approaching deadline, but you just can’t manage to tease it out of your head and onto paper (or a computer screen). And there’s not a problem with lack of knowledge in your field. You’re the expert, after all. But your wealth of experience and knowledge just sits there, mocking you from within the recessing of your brain.

And there’s the key. It’s your brain, or more specifically your lizard brain, that’s taunting you into believing that whatever you write won’t be good enough. I’m currently in the process of reading the pre-release of Seth Godin’s “Linchpin, Are You Indispensible?”, where he talks about the nasty lizard brain that keeps us all down, telling us we can’t possibly be good enough (stay in line and be a cog for your own survival sake, it says).

There is a place for the lizard brain. Like when you’re truly in a survival situation. It is absolutely superlative at demanding super-human feats of strength and endurance when being chased by a bear, or having to walk to the nearest neighbor in a blizzard when your car breaks down, or finding yourself lost in the backwoods. That is, if you have some control over it going completely beserk with fear.

But, the lizard brain is very counterproductive when it comes to functions of creativity, leadership, or standing out from the crowd. That’s when your higher brain function, ie. your cerebrum, need to ignore the lizard. But, after a lifetime of listening to the lizard it can be extremely difficult to counteract. Like anything in life it takes practice and a few helpful tools to get you in the right direction.

Some Tools for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Here are a few things that help me. They may not work for everyone. It may take some time and several tries to find the “secret sauce” that works for you.

1. Just write something… anything. Whether you type at a computer or write on paper get something “on the page”. Start with a shopping list, a household to-do list, a description of the clothes you’re wearing, a description of your car or house, your thoughts about the news you heard this morning.

I would stay away from hateful writing here, though– bringing out a laundry list of what you can’t stand about your partner or boss or kids, etc. It will just put you in a negative vibe that’s hard to get out of. Hateful writing is a version of the lizard coming out. Let’s not feed the lizard.

2. Use a different vehicle, or medium, for your communication. If you usually compose on the computer then take out a notebook and pen. If you usually write on paper then try speaking into a recorder of some kind. If you usually squirrel yourself away in your office then call or sit down with a friend to talk. Shifting to a slightly different medium for communication will nudge your creative juices a bit.

3. Pretend you’re talking to a friend about what you do. Then with your screen or notebook in front of you simply record that imaginary dialogue you’re carrying on. So what if it’s not Grapes of Wrath material. No judgments here.

4. Get out! Don’t chain yourself to your desk until you’ve produced you’re finest work. Another lizard tactic. Step away from your usual writing spot and change your perspective, literally. Go for a walk, run, ski, hike, swim. Moving your muscles and blood flow could be just the trick to quiet the lizard. Pesky fellow, isn’t it?

5. Pretend and visualize. Do a form of meditation and bring into your mind’s eye a picture of yourself writing, sitting in a chair composing. Then submitting your work to a publisher or editor, with smiles on both your faces. Then having a wonderful conversation about what a great writer you are. Then holding the book or magazine or newspaper or e-reader in your hand and seeing your words on the page. You may even go a step further and visualize yourself getting calls from other writers to interview you. What you can imagine will flow into your reality easier.

6. No excuses. Yes, everyone has bills to pay, grass to mow, sidewalks to shovel, cars to fix, families to make dinner for, parties to go to (well, not literally everyone, but you get my point). There will always be some sort of excuse to put off the important work of creativity. Get down to your writing and life will go on without you. After you get in a few hours of writing then you can go take out the garbage.

7. Read. Reading other people’s work is a great way to get some writing juices flowing. This one is my favorite, actually. One venue that’s always been a winner, in terms of stimulating my own writing, is reading Scientific American. No kidding. I’m kind of a science geek at heart and love to think about all the intricacies of the universe. So reading on the topics you find there is very nourishing to my higher creative/intellectual/cerebral side. I get in that vibe after reading an article or 2 there. Find your favorite genre and read, read, read.

8. Set your work in a “cooler”. My final piece of advice is to set your piece of writing in a place where it can cool off and age a bit. Much like a fine wine. After you’ve tapped into your inner guru (and, yes, everyone does have one) then step away from your work for awhile– but, not for too long. It can be a few hours, it can be a couple days. Coming back a month or year later may make it more difficult to pick up the thread you set aside.

Even if you’re blogging it’s a good idea to hit “save draft”, walk away from your computer for awhile, and then re-read what you’ve written. It is very tempting to hit “publish” as soon as you feel you’ve come to the end of your piece. Resist.

9. One more thing: throw out your style manual! Style manuals are for the “tighty whities” in the world. Just my opinion

Give these a try. Sometimes one method will work a whole lot better than another depending on your state of mind. No judgment. Squash the lizard. Or at least lock it away in an airtight glass box for awhile.

You’re The One Who Holds The Key

In the end it’s up to you to get the ball rolling. Now go write something! Overcoming writer’s block takes a leap of faith to try something different.

And thank you, dear reader, for reading this! Producing this post has helped me to define some great ways that help me to quiet that reptile brain. The act of writing this out is therapeutic for me, too. Hope my list helps you!

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