Ahh, the dreaded writer’s block. Every creative’s worst nightmare. The blank, white page has never been more frightening than when we’re eager to fill it with worthy substance.
Fear not, let’s explore a few ways to get back in the zone. But first, we must know our enemy.
The science of writer’s block
According to Harvard Medical School neurologist Dr. Alice Flaherty, writer’s block and creativity involve a push-pull dynamic between our brain’s frontal and temporal lobes.
The frontal lobe is the get-things-done executive/cognitive part of the brain, while the temporal lobe is in charge of processing the language we hear, words we see and other sensory information.
If our temporal lobe is all lit up, chances are we can write with ease. But if our frontal lobe, which helps us plan and regulate ourselves, is not in tip top shape, we can get hit with writer’s block and affect our productivity.
So what are some ways we can overcome this?
Remember your why
One of the things that makes us lose taste for what we do, from writing business emails to great novels, is when we lose sight of why we do what we do. We forget the rich meaning in the mundane.
In a world where originality and authenticity are highly valued — template-ish work is usually frowned upon. The best antidote then is to accept the ebs and flows of being human, flaws and all. Recalling one’s identity can empower us with the freedom to speak our truth.
It also allows us to strengthen our unique point of view, distinguishing you from all the others. We sometimes get stuck in a rut, and that’s totally ok. As a unique person, always explore your why/purpose to ground yourself.
Ask yourself, what does this mean to me? Why do I do this? Who am I doing it for? Go back to your essence, revisit why you write and work.
This phenomenological practice helps us become less robotic and more human writers/thinkers. Dive deeper into the subject matter and into the vast emotions that give life its diversity and richness.
For instance, as I reflect on why I blog here, I remember that it is to find my authentic, unencumbered voice. To share my thoughts, play with technology and connect with others who can relate to our shared experiences.
What’s your why? Share in the comments section below and inspire us.
Relevant to finding/remembering your why is finding inspiration. Finding your why can come from you internally, but you can also find inspiration externally.
That lightbulb could go off as you take a walk in the great outdoors, shifting your physical environment could do wonders to address your writer’s block. Go to the beach, bask under a lush forest canopy, walk in a garden, listen to the trickling sounds of a water fountain… mother nature knows inspiration best.
You can also be inspired by your muse or someone you greatly admire. Your role models and their work are excellent sources of inspiration, just remember to stick to your own identity and not get lost in theirs.
Also, inspiration finds us in the most unexpected places, whether we like it or not. Let’s call this passive inspiration. Ever got a striking idea in the shower or while taking a dump on the toilet? While washing the dishes? It sounds icky, but let’s be real, you know it happens. Honestly, if only it were normal to write on bathroom walls that wouldn’t ruin the zen aesthetic, I bet we’d all find ways to write in the shower too. haha.
Take a break, change things up
Finding inspiration by going out and basking in nature’s light is one sure-fire way to switch things up.
Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Flaherty and psychologist Dr. Shelley Carson have used light to overcome writing block for their students. Sunlight is ideal, but even sitting in front of a light block to simulate natural lighting could work too when sunlight is scarce.
Though adventuring out to find a well-lit scenic view is fantastic, you don’t need to go very far to break the monotony that may be fueling your writer’s block.
Breaking your humdrum routine at home/office can be as simple as revamping your desk decor with lamps and accessories; decluttering space; creating new rituals; or taking up a new hobby.
By revitalizing our interest in life and work through novelty, we can reengage our senses and break the boredom. Eventually, those tingling sensations in your fingers will jolt you to write something inspired.
Be authentic, not perfect
Usually we get frought with anxiety about whether people will like our work or not. We become strapped into the societal electric chair of other people’s expectations. Or worse, our own self-deprecating thoughts.
All that external judgement, inner critique… throw those out the window for a sec and just proudly do you.
As in romantic relationships, we also have a relationship with the pen and paper (or in digital parlance, the keyboard and screen). These tools are extensions of our eyes, hands and mouths — the very parts of ourselves that we often use to communicate with others.
Originality, authenticity, vulnerability, connection, engagement… these are some of the criteria that we look for in great writing, from business emails/reports to creative literature, whether writing for print or digital. But these are exemplary human traits as well.
If you think about it, the more that we work on ourselves to best embody these human traits, the better wordsmiths we become.
But nobody gets to the summit of a steep mountain without first starting at the base. Start with a rough draft of yourself and work your way up to become a better writer.
Start rough, refine later
A great sculptor usually starts with a rough silhouette, gradually chipping away to reveal a beautiful form.
If you get stuck overanalyzing the finer details, it’s easy to get lost in the habit of nitpicking until we can’t take it anymore. Perhaps it would do you good to zoom out and see your narrative’s silhouette first.
Write sketches/drafts sans the judgemental scrutiny. Doodle, journal, write in bullets/outline. Build a skeleton that will hold your written body together as it moves and flows through its sections.
Relax and release the anxiety that comes with obssessively wanting to produce great work. Once you get into the creative flow, start at the base with a rough scratch/sketch and let the details come to you naturally.
Ask for help
Writing can be a solitary endeavor at times. Just you, a cup of coffee, the screen and the clickity clack of a keyboard.
If ever you do get stumped midway in the writing process, there’s no harm in asking people for advice or feedback on your work. Approach a variety of people — from those close to you to random strangers. It might be a little uncomfortable hearing positive and negative comments, but no pain no gain.
Honestly, this is advice that I could work on for myself. It is sometimes overwhelming to step out of my comfortable bubble of solitude as an ambiverted writer/communicator. But it all starts with being mindful of the fact that our work will inevitably face scrutiny. As we mentioned earlier, authenticity over perfection always.
Even the singer-songwriter Taylor Swift says haters gonna hate. The love-hate dialectics has its utility too. Sometimes, bad publicity might even help drum up supporters your way. So let’s not shy away from opening our work up to critique.
Also, we can also ask others for help in terms of being our source of information or content. Depending on your purpose/topic/intent, people are usually honored to be cited or mentioned in your written work. Let them contribute and lighten your load.
You can also ask your followers for help through your email marketing blasts and invite them to engage with you. Check out an article I’ve written about how useful it is to maintain an enewsletter mailing list for businesses.
Practice makes better
Last, but surely not the least, keep writing. Hone your craft. Don’t stop expressing yourself on whatever platform you choose.
Without colorful and eccentric writers like us, life would be so dull. Your work matters, so keep at it.
Let’s not be easily disheartened if we don’t become bestselling authors or top-earning bloggers overnight. To overcome writer’s block, we must face and tame our literary dragons, which could take time. Just be patient with yourself and keep pushing on until the block becomes a bridge.
In this era of blatant content marketing and peddling eyeballs (views), it would bode well for us to remember that it’s never solely about the hits, views, purchases, downloads, profit, etc.
It’s way more fulfilling to focus on other meaningful standards of intrinsic value, such as quality, ethics, connection, authenticity and originality. Hopefully these tips can help you whenever you get stuck in writing, and even in life.
How do you handle writer’s block? Comment below and let’s help fellow writers soar.