Beating Writer’s Block (or indeed, any block whatsoever)

“No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.”

Seth Godin – “Talker’s Block”

I don’t think I’ve ever once disagreed with Seth Godin. Some of his ideas, however, border on the revolutionary, and this is one of them.

He’s right – nobody gets talker’s block. So why do we get writer’s block? (And you can of course replace the word “writer” with anything else.) Unless you have some obstacle where you physically cannot write or type, there is nothing blocking you from writing but yourself.

The easiest place to point the finger is perfectionism, which is just another way of saying that you’re afraid. Writer’s block is basically just being so afraid of what you write not coming out perfect that you choose – perhaps unconsciously – not to write.

If you’ve never thought of it that way – that the only thing stopping you from doing good work is your fear of doing imperfect work – then your mind might be blown right. But if like me you’ve that before and it hasn’t stopped you getting blocked from time to time, you might be thinking “Great, I know what it is… now what can I actually do about it?”

Well, speaking as a writer’s block veteran of sorts, I have learnt three ways to dig myself out of this particular hole. Enjoy.

The first is to lower the stakes: Use frequency and repetition to your advantage.

Whatever some part of you is afraid to do, devise some way of doing it regularly where the results are not important – where it is getting in the ring, rather than knocking out yor opponent, that counts.

This is why I blog every day. Do you think I want to blog most days? Of course I don’t. And do you think I like what I’ve written on my blog most days? Not really. But I’ve tried. I’ve gotten in the ring. And I’ve lived to tell the tale. And that’s enough.

The second way is to actively distract yourself: Do something – anything – else.

For a lot of people, that thing is exercise. Ryan Holiday wrote a brilliant article a few years ago about the timeless link between writing and running. I can’t do it justice here, but what I can do is agree with him wholeheartedly. I don’t run because it keeps the pounds off or because it’s good for my heart. I run because it’s only when I do that the world makes any sense.

But when it comes to writer’s block, just switching channel from what I’m struggling with to something unrelated helps. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat here swearing under my breath at my laptop because I just cannot express in words what I’m thinking and what I want to communicate. To calm myself down I pick up my guitar and noodle away on it, forget that I was in the middle of a blog post, and sometimes after just a minute or two the perfect solution to it just pops into my head.

The third way is to research: pick apart the way somebody else did it.

If you were trying to write a song, for example, and it wasn’t going anywhere, you could pick one of your favourite songs and pick it apart like a surgeon.

Write down all the lyrics. Write out the chords. Work out the structure. List all the instruments you can hear and when they enter and when they exit. Note down where they’re each panned in the stereo field.

And as you do this, I guarantee that at some point something will grab your interest. You’ll get some kind of idea or inspiration for something you could try to do – so go do it! Don’t worry if you didn’t finish picking the song apart – the point was to break your writer’s block, and that’s what you’ve done.

To say that writer’s block doesn’t exist because it’s “all in your head” is as stupid as saying that happiness and sadness don’t exist. When you’re in the throes of it, it sure feels real, and for all intents and purposes, that’s enough. Denying it is just a way to avoid dealing with it.

No matter how blocked you feel – and again, this doesn’t just apply to writing – there is always something you can do to try to alleviate it. Getting into motion is the first and most important step.

So next time you’re feeling blocked, humour me – try one of these tips – and let me know how it turns out. Of course, if you’re one of those people who is never blocked whatsoever from what they want to do, then I will give you the keys to my website and email list because you clearly have a better handle on this than I do!

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