Chances are, you’ve thought the phrase: I’m just not cut out for writing.
Or some variation of it, because all of us suffer from anxiety, dread and imposter syndrome. It is an unfortunate part of the process. We’re extremely creative people and it’s hard to think about putting our own thoughts and designs into the world to be viewed and judged.
It can also seem like a daunting task when everything happening around you feels opposed to what you’re trying to accomplish. From happenings in the world, to your day job and even to your home life.
Writers everywhere suffer from this malady. They find themselves staring at the cursed, blinking cursor with fingers hovering over the keyboard. Finally, 20 minutes have passed and still, a blank document screen stares back. So they give in. They’ll try again tomorrow.
Then “I’ll try again tomorrow” turns into a week. A month. A year, perhaps.
Good news, is that as mentioned, writers suffer this all the time. Bad news, is that writers can quickly let it become an excuse. And here’s the truth – published authors never let it be an excuse, and neither should you.
Dan Brown, author of Inferno and The Da Vinci Code, uses gravity boots. Hanging upside down helps him gain a new perspective, and oxygenates the brain. Dan Brown, and other authors recognize that writer’s block is evidence that you need to change how you approach your writing and projects.
IT’S OKAY TO NOT CREATE
Sometimes, we all need a break. A mental recalibration (Mass Effect fans, you know what I’m talking about), and that’s totally normal. It can feel like getting words down on the page is like pulling teeth. That sucks, hard. But in times of stress, no matter the source – you don’t need to push yourself. You shouldn’t feel like you need to push yourself, either. Taking a break for a little while is actually way more beneficial than struggling to put out work. The more you force yourself, the less you like it.
Instead of writing, try something relaxing. Treat yo-self! Take yourself out for a quiet dinner and get that really tempting dish you’ve been looking at, and a drink. Visit a museum, or go for a hike. Have a spa day (even one at home)! Put on a face mask, do your nails and binge your favorite Netflix show.
IT’S OKAY TO DO OTHER CREATIVE THINGS
It is totally okay to not do anything creative. It really is. But if you still feel the need for a creative outlet there are other options than your tried and true wordcraft.
If you’re feeling burnt out, try something new. One of my favorite things to do is to color. I like pulling out my pretty colored pencils, choosing a cool picture in my coloring book and just losing myself in coloring everything in.
I also from time to time, like to cook fancy things. I’ll find a cool recipe, and experiment with something new. Try picking up a hobby like knitting, baking, glass blowing or anything else that catches your eye. There’s something invigorating about being creative in a way you aren’t normally.
MAYBE IT’S NOT BURN OUT
Another aspect to really consider if you’re feeling discouraged is that it’s not actually burnout, but time to try doing things differently. Maybe you’re a pantser who has never managed to finish your first draft. If that’s the case, it might be beneficial to start plotting your book even if it’s just a skeleton framework. I was a pantser for many, many years and never actually finished anything. Then I learned the magic that is outlines, and I’m consistently creating for my book because I have a map of where I need to get and how to get there.
Maybe you’re a plotter – it might be time to try some free writing. Don’t worry so much about your outline. Focus on the words and let them carry you where they will. It might turn out to be nothing you can put in your book this time, but it might be useful for another book. It might also only serve to get you out of a rigid mindset, allowing you to dive back in with a renewed vigor.
Whatever the case might be, don’t be hard on yourself. Writing is hard work! People that are not in the writing industry struggle to understand – but making yourself sit down day after day to create whole worlds, events and people out of thin air requires a mental acuity most do not possess. Make sure to take care of yourself to avoid feeling burnt out! And don’t give up – just realize writing is a real profession and it comes with all the implications, pros and cons as any other career.
Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.LILI ST. CROW
WHAT IS WRITER’S BLOCK?
A psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler first used this term in academia during the 1940s. Studies were made of the phenomena, and a popular theory before it was proven untrue and dismissed, as that writers were “draining themselves dry of inspiration.”
Further studies proved that writer’s block was often a symptom of depression, anxiety and authors who felt generally dissatisfied with their current situation. These things, as well as environmental issues such as a pandemic, times of crisis and other factors create mental blocks. When these arise, you have to fight for your creativity.
CAUSES OF WRITER’S BLOCK
- Exhaustion: Sometimes, you’re just tired. You’re burnt out and you need to give your brain a break. Take a nap if you’re physically tired, and go do something else if you’re mentally weary.
- Perfectionism: You might be stuck because you feel like your writing has to be perfect, even on the first draft. Allow me to introduce you to the idea of the zero draft. Type out all your words and don’t worry about going back to anything. The zero draft is for the crap.
- Imposter Syndrome: This one hits a lot of people, not just writers. Whether you feel like an imposter because you haven’t published anything, or you’re feeling it despite publishing – you just don’t feel good enough. Nothing could be further from the truth.
QUICK TIPS TO OVERCOME THE OVERWHELM
- Listen to music. I personally like music with lyrics, but many swear by ambiance or non-lyric. Natural sounds, or slow, soothing music lowers blood pressure, heart rate as well as stress hormones.
- Exercise: it lowers stress hormones and it improves your sleep. Walk for 15 minutes, start a yoga routine, or go for a bike ride.
- Color! Or do something else creative that isn’t writing to reset your brain.
- Skip the introduction. Write the action and go back to the start later on.
- Pomodoro Technique. Decide what you want to write, and then set a timer for 25 minutes. Write until the timer goes off, then take a five minute break. Repeat.
- Create a writing routine. Hack your brain into writing mode by setting a routine that forces your brain to connect a place, a time, or set up that means “it’s writing time!”
- Shut off the distractions. Sometimes, I just need to turn off the wifi, set the phone in another room and focus.
- Aromatherapy: certain herbs and scents can help reduce stress. Try lavender, rose or chamomile candles or essential oils.
Sometimes, being afraid of writing is harder for us to deal with, than actually just sitting down and writing. Other times, the words come easily. Experiment. Find what works for you, to overcome the overwhelm and use it. If you want to make a career out of writing, then part of your job is to do the writing and get it done. Even when it feels like you can’t make it.
Warren Ellis says it best: “Writer’s block? I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living.”
Creatives like us have no problem with getting caught up in negative thought cycles. All it takes is one errant thought and we’re suckered into a mindset trap that isn’t healthy for us in the slightest.
If it were as easy as one positive thought getting us back on track, life would certainly be a lot easier wouldn’t it?
That being said, when you catch yourself swirling down into negative thoughts, learning to stop yourself and reverse that thought into something positive can go a long way to helping.
Mine is always… “I’m not writing enough.” Reversing that would look like… “I AM writing enough, and my pace is just fine.”
What negative thought do you fall into, and how can you reverse it to something positive?