I Can’t Write Another Word! Fighting the Writer’s Block

No, Mr. Block, you’re not stopping me

Most of us writers, whether aspiring or experienced, young or old, amateurs or professionals, probably go through the phenomenon of a Writer’s Block — one where you are unable to proceed and are paralyzed by a host of things. It’s frustrating — the indecision, inability to write, lack of interest, feeling of failure and blocked creativity.

The lamp dims sometimes with Writers Block

In this post, I write about how I handle Writer’s Block, and perhaps something here can help you too.

I hit the block for several different reasons,

  1. Life got in the way — change in jobs, work, moving, daily “other stuff”
  2. Brain got in the way — creative slump, discouraged by progress, overanalyzing future, self-doubt, “guess I’m not buying a mansion in LA”, distracted and attracted to other shiny objects
  3. Infrastructure got in the way — I’m nerdy, and that means I’m kind of picky about the tools and configuration needed for efficient writing, and if it’s not right, I waste time or feel paralyzed and unable to continue

Over time, I’ve figured out that the best way to tackle this situation is by setting up some goals, removing impediments to progress, and changing the mindset to rewire what you think success is.

So, my guiding principle for writing is to move the needle every day on any topic related to the craft of a writer. Notice that I said, “craft of a writer,” rather than the “craft of writing.” This is a big distinction — I’ve seen lots of forum posts of people getting frustrated because they hit a rut and can’t write anymore, but you don’t have to be writing all the time!

The craft of a writer is divided into a few parts the way I see it — and that’s writing, publishing, marketing, and pipelining.

In writing — well, you write — this is the core and at the heart of your world. I include research as part of writing

In Publishing — you decide how to publish, do book covers, blurbs, queries, synopses, beta reads, critiques, agent communications — all of it related to either preparation or action towards publishing goals

In Marketing — you work on Marketing approaches, campaign design, keywords research, promotions, book campaigns, and whatever else to promote your brand and books, without or with an agent

In Pipelining — well, you build a pipeline for your work. Brainstorm new ideas for your series, think of plot points for the next book, research content, and do whatever else you need to, to build your portfolio

The various activities related to writing

When you look at that spectrum of work, you realize there is so much to do outside just “writing.” Once I accepted this mindset of “keeping things moving,” I became very comfortable with the notion of shifting between activities.

Let’s go back to the three things I set out to do,

  1. Setting up some goals
  2. Removing impediments to progress, and
  3. Changing the mindset to rewire what you think success is, on an ongoing basis.

Setting up goals

I set up a writing goal of about 1,500 words a day (with the acceptance that an average of 7500 words a week would be fine). These words include both main content writing (novel or non-fiction) or short work (like this blog post).

Once I hit the goal, unless I’m in a charged state, I stop and switch to something else related to writing. The switch keeps my mind fresh and rejuvenated for the next day and helps avoid burnouts. It’s kind of like stopping eating delicious food before you’re full — that way you keep the hunger and desire for the next time.

Removing impediments to progress

Setting yourself up efficiently for all the things you would do, is, in my mind, one of the most critical elements to success. And that means your computer, your tools, the software, the room, the table, the chair, the keyboard — they all contribute to your operational efficiency. I try to take as much friction out of my writing process.

I will soon be publishing a post on the Writer’s Desktop if you’re interested in how I’ve set myself up. It works great for me because it allows me to switch from one activity to other quickly, efficiently, and without causing me to lose my stride. It helps me keep moving. For now, organizing my work using Ulysses for Mac has proved to be great.

If you find yourself distracted by the process and the environment, take a good look and see how you can set yourself up in a way you can focus. For example, for me, trying to sit in Starbucks and trying to write might make me look cool, but it is absolutely unproductive. On the other hand, I’m really good and doing short bursts of writing on my iPhone when in the airport waiting to board.

Changing mindset

Once I felt comfortable with the idea that I could engage in other productive activities that were related to writing and not feel guilty that I wasn’t adding words, it completely changed how I viewed success for the day.

On days when I didn’t feel like writing the book, I did book covers, blog posts, ad campaigns, research, spent time on various forums, rewrote my blurbs — basically anything else that kept my mind fresh and engaged. This has worked wonderfully so far, and I’ve been able to progress on multiple fronts and create greater throughput than I thought possible. In particular, I find work on graphic design a great way to keep myself distracted and learn some new skills.

Of course, one can always take a break from all of it completely, and here are some activities that have helped me

  • Reading great novels or history books similar to the genre I’m writing, this really gets me motivated
  • Going to the gym
  • Watching TV — oh yeah, I love some of that Punisher, Dare Devil, Mind Hunter, GoT… and many more. I am a bit of a TV nut.
  • Long drives
  • Spending time with family

So, that’s how I avoid my writing slumps, let me know how you avoid yours, and I will share some creative ones here in this blog post as an update.