6 Simple Mindset Shifts to Bust through Writer’s Block
Don't Hulk Smash It. Build the Creative Muscle.
Is writer's block real? Plenty of authors will tell you it isn't. But for every writer who's sat down to write and stared at a blank page, the struggle is all too familiar.
A Definition of Writer's Block
Before I anger the "writer's block doesn't exist" crowd, let's talk about what it is—and isn't.
Writer's block as a phenomenon that somehow (hopefully) magically resolves itself doesn't exist. Writer's block isn't a physical barrier blocking you from creating. It's not a thing that lives in your brain that prevents you from putting your fingers to the keyboard (or pen) and getting words on paper.
It's not an excuse to avoid writing or a convenient concept to blame for your unproductivity.
Writer's block means that despite your willingness and desire to write, you don't—you avoid your book, you spend time on social media, you read books on writing, you do everything but write.
Writer's block is just a catch-all term for "what stops people from writing," which means writer's block comes in all shapes and sizes, tailored to each individual.
Causes of Writer's Block
What stops you from doing what you really want to do?
Maybe your answer is fear. Or perfectionism. Unrealistic expectations or false beliefs. A writing process that hurts more than it helps.
Because writing is so often labeled as creative, we expect that we must wait for the muse to strike and inspiration to rain down upon us. That in the "inspiration zone," writing is easy and the words will flow—and that we can only write when we're in the zone.
If that's your expectation and belief, you're bound to be disappointed repeatedly. Writing is rarely easy. The muse doesn't appear when she's ready; you have to write whether you feel inspired or not. You don't have to be a plotter or pantser—you just have to write the way that makes sense for you and your personality, whatever that may be.
And yes, you'll probably have to experiment and "fail" before you learn what's right for you.
Because writers have an active imagination, they're also adept at coming up with all the various ways they'll fail. (Or succeed, because that’s scary too.) They imagine all the awful things people will say about their writing.
They imagine themselves hiding under their covers to avoid the angry fans who will throw stones at their windows and denounce them as a fraud. They fear that the one book they wrote is all they can accomplish and nothing they write going forward will ever compare.
How to Banish Writer's Block Once and for All
If you want to kick writer's block to the curb for good, remember this one thing: Creativity is a muscle.
When you approach writing the same way you'd approach physical training, it becomes a vastly different landscape. Writing is a habit; in the same way you couldn't just get up off your couch one day and manage to run three miles in 20 minutes, you're not going to decide to write and then produce a complete and quality book in a month.
(Sorry, NaNoWriMo-ers. Can you write a book in a month? Probably. But you might also wake up with sore writing muscles on December 1 and not attempt to write again until next November.)
If you want to develop a sustainable writing routine—and avoid the dreaded writer's block—these are the habits you should adopt.
Don't Be Afraid to Write Shit
Anne Lamott believes in the shitty first draft, and you should too. First drafts aren't meant to be pretty or polished or publishable. The published books you read have gone through numerous revisions and edits. You have no way of knowing how crappy the first drafts were—and no one needs to know how crappy your first draft is, either.
You can't edit a blank page. Going from blank page to final product isn't like going from Point A to Point B—it's more like going from Point A to Point Z, with many stops and revisions along the way.
Write Even When You Don't Want to
For every 100 words you keep, you may have to delete 1,000. So even if you write when the process feels like pulling teeth and you hate every word, it's still better than not writing at all.
And remember, creativity is a muscle. By writing when you don't want to, you can train your brain to be creative on your terms.
Expect Writing to Be a Painful Process
The creation process isn't always pretty. You put time and effort and emotion into writing, and sometimes it hurts. It hurts to give up sleep to get up early to write. It hurts to say no to going out when you have to write. It hurts when you've poured hours into writing words that get sent to the recycle bin.
Even though writing is a painful process, it can be a rewarding one. The things worth doing in life aren't always easy, but they're incredibly gratifying, in the end. When you complete your manuscript, when you hold a print book in your hands for the first time—there's little that can compare.
When you get bogged down in the day-to-day headaches of writing, remember the end goal of what you're trying to achieve.
Keep Writing Anyway
You're going to hit a point in your writing when you'll want to give up. Sometimes it'll be a strong urge, sometimes it'll be a whisper in the back of your head: Maybe it's time to move on to something else.
Keep writing. That's writer's block attempting to win. It wants you to quit and move on to something easier. Something that doesn't require you to put your heart out in words that readers may or may not like.
Get Up and Move
Yes, you're supposed to keep writing, but taking a (short) break from your writing can make you more productive, too. Really. Exercise is a win-win—it benefits your health and your writing.
Exercising helps clear the clutter from your brain. While your body is moving and pumping out endorphins, your subconscious is hard at work solving your writing problems.
Get the Voices Out of Your Head
No, not the voices of your characters—the dissenting voices that tell you how awful your writing is. These voices are your fears, and much of writer's block is fear. It'll tell you that your words are terrible, that no one will ever like your story, or that it's not worth it. It'll tell you to stop; it'll frustrate you to the point of giving up.
The key to beating writer's block is developing a writing process that banishes those voices. Connect with other writers. Find ways to shut out the voices. (I like writing sprints because I focus on racing the clock rather than the quality of what I'm writing.) Be strong.
Because you can do it.
Amanda Shofner satisfies her desire for adventure with the written word and helps others do the same. Currently writing romantic suspense.