by Angela Lauria April 22, 2023
Are you struggling to start writing? Do you find it difficult to push through long stretches of time when writing is simply not happening?
Writer’s block can be overwhelming, but there are solutions.
As writers, we’ve all experienced those moments of frustration and self-doubt. We ask: “How do I push through writer’s block?” However, the truth is that writer’s block isn’t something to be fought against or pushed through. It’s a hidden gift, a message from your inner author. Instead of struggling to write through it, take the time to listen to what it’s telling you.
To begin with, it’s important to understand that creativity and structure come from different sides of your brain. Trying to do both at the same time is a common mistake. Instead, separate the process and start with outlining your work – this is where the structured, logical left brain comes into action. Think about what you want to write and break it down into chapters or slugs (lists of topics), creating a plan for your work.
Once you have your outline, move to your right brain for the creative flow. Take each slug and write about it, using it as a writing prompt to diminish the fear of starting. By focusing on one slug at a time, you will make tangible progress towards your work.
If you need help outlining your work, our developmental editors are here for you. Remember, outlining might not feel exciting, but it’s a crucial step in any writing process. Trust us, your English teacher was right.
Let’s talk about the inner critic and perfectionism. As a writing coach, I often tell clients not to be too precious about their writing. While there is a time and place for perfectionism, it’s not when you’re first starting to write. Instead, focus on getting your ideas on paper, even if it’s not perfect. It’s essential to have the right outline, environment, and mindset to get started. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, use Anne Lamott’s principle of a “shitty first draft.”
Perfectionism can hinder us from getting into a necessary flow, causing unnecessary stress and fatigue. Instead, try to commit to writing something terrible. It may seem scary, but it’s essential to get your ideas out there so you can get feedback and work on improving. As writers, we need to embrace the fact that half of what we write may get thrown out, and that’s okay. Embrace the process and stay in the flow.
Having a writing schedule that works for you is also essential. It’s not about how many hours you write; it’s about being consistent. Whether it’s four to six hours a week or 15 minutes a day, find what works best for you. If you’re an ADHD writer, a routine may not work, so find a few times on your calendar to write instead.
Remember, the goal is progress, not perfection. Trust the process, commit to a schedule, and embrace the journey of writing.
Paula shared that she’s struggling to write about a traumatic event in her life. This is a common reason for writer’s block. Your inner author may be urging you to process your emotions in a safer way before tackling the topic. In fact, there are many different reasons for writer’s block, and it’s important to figure out why you’re feeling stuck before you can move forward.
Instead of pushing through writer’s block, try doing some exercises to explore the underlying fear or message. One of my favorites is non-dominant hand writing. With your dominant hand, write or type the question, “What is the purpose of this writer’s block? What message does it have for me?” Then, with your non-dominant hand, write or type the answer. This exercise often reveals the fear or emotion underlying the writer’s block.
Let’s discuss three common fears – fear of being seen, fear of having too much to say, and fear of having nothing to say. These fears plague every author I work with, regardless of their background or experience. One of my clients, Jackie Morris, asked me if I felt comfortable getting my book out there and if I feared that it wouldn’t attract a large audience. It’s a fear of failure and a common concern among many writers. However, the key is to identify your goals and tailor your messaging accordingly.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that you may not attract a massive audience, and that’s okay. Your goal could be personal expression, getting clients, or securing traditional book contracts – all of these goals are different. Once you identify your objectives, you can create a niche audience that you can impact profoundly.
Fear of being seen is real for many, even if it is not rational. Many of my authors worry about what their bosses or third-grade teachers would think about their work. It’s essential to ask yourself if you’re being rational and if your fear is grounded in reality. Is it worth risking to write something that might get you fired?
On the other hand, fear of not having anything to say can be challenging. One of my clients, Maryland, who recently turned 80, asked me how to know if she has anything to say. I reminded her that she has lived on this planet for 80 years – she undoubtedly has something to say.
So, as a writer, it’s essential to identify your goals, understand your audience, and not be afraid to express yourself. Fear is real, but it shouldn’t hold you back from sharing your story with the world.
Let’s talk about privilege and its impact on marginalized voices. As a woman who grew up during the sexual revolution and equal rights era, I understand the conditioning that can make us question the value of our own voices. However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s voice is valuable, no matter their age or background. At the Author Incubator, we strive to create a safe space for marginalized voices, including those of queer, neurodivergent, people of color, and indigenous communities. Unfortunately, traditional publishers still tend to favor white straight men with higher advances, even though there are more books by women and people of color now than ever. It’s crucial that we not only demand pay equity and push to have our voices heard by publishers, but also work on our own internal beliefs about our worth as writers.
When writing about trauma, it can be overwhelming to have too much to say and feel stuck with writer’s block. In linguistic terms, this is referred to as “mazing,” which is a side effect of trauma and disassociation. While journaling and talking to a therapist can be helpful in processing trauma, they often lack the structure needed to develop a cohesive narrative for a book or essay. To address this, it’s important to have a tight outline and regularly check in with yourself to make sure it’s still working. It’s also crucial to have coping skills in place to address any trauma that comes up while writing, such as taking a break to do restorative yoga or going for a walk with your dog. Remember, separating your trauma processing time from your writing time can help you feel more grounded and confident in your ability to craft a powerful narrative.
Remember, writer’s block is not something to be feared or fought against. It’s a signal that something deeper is going on. Take the time to listen to your inner voice and process your emotions in a healthy way. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the words start flowing again.
In my book The Difference, which you can get for free at differencepress.com, I discuss focus and the concept of author Mojo. Your Mojo is all about finding the right time and place to write your best work. I first learned this while working for a bestselling author in DC who was a routine-oriented individual. He had his day down to a science and his Mojo thrived on following that routine. What worked for him may not work for everyone, so don’t be discouraged if you struggle to find your Mojo. Instead, focus on yourself and what conditions help you write best.
Do you like having natural light? Writing early in the morning or late at night? Do you enjoy writing with a glass of wine? Whatever your preference, embrace it wholeheartedly and make sure your space is catered to your needs. Don’t be afraid of trial and error to figure out what works best for you, but always remember to prioritize the value of your unique style.
As an author, it’s your responsibility to create a welcoming space for your inner author to come out and play. Think of your inner author as a playful little kid who needs a warm environment to feel safe and free. So, create that inviting atmosphere and listen to the message your inner author is trying to convey.
These are common challenges that many writers face, but there are strategies that can help. One approach is to cultivate your “author Mojo” by creating the ideal circumstances for writing, such as having a solid outline and a comfortable environment. However, sometimes you just need to sit down and write, even if it feels awful, to remind yourself that you are a writer and you write no matter what. This 20% of the time can help you get unstuck and make progress, even if the writing isn’t perfect.
On the other hand, it’s important to recognize when it might not be the right time to write a book. If you’re feeling blocked for an extended period, it’s possible that your creative energy is simply in a dormant phase, and trying to force yourself to write could create more frustration. Just like the seasons, writing also goes through cycles of planting, harvesting, and wintering, and sometimes the soil needs to lay fallow for a while. If you’re not feeling the pull of a book project, it’s okay to step back and give yourself time to rest and rejuvenate. Only when you feel a strong urge to write, when your book is pulling at your heart, should you dive into writing full-force.
Either way, whether you’re cultivating your author Mojo or allowing yourself to winter as a writer, the key is to stay in tune with your creative instincts and listen to what your mind and body are telling you. With patience and self-compassion, you will navigate these challenges and find your way to a finished manuscript.
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