I gotta be honest – I don’t really suffer from writer’s block. Haven’t for years – though I imagine I could again struggle with it someday.
I used to get it more when I was trying to write some fiction, or create something “out of the blue” in some way. As my own work and demands became more tangible through the years, so too did my output, and my own expectations of such it seems.
I am not sure when things got easier in this regard as I have never really thought about it much – but I did notice recently that I never really have writer’s block any more, so I wondered a bit about why.
My conclusion (for now) was that I know I need to be working on something pretty much all the time to keep moving forward. So if one thing is not feeling right (common), I move away until it clears up. It happens in a pretty fluid way, and has for years – so it is kind of invisible to me unless I stare right at it.
Putting Lots of Stuff Out There
I literally should NEVER have a time when a number of projects don’t come to mind when I am thinking about what I need to do. Prioritizing them reasonably is another thing completely (yipes!), but I should always have lots of things with potential, and/or specific projects that need more immediate attention.
I am not that good at always remembering things, so I use a little whiteboard that is just beyond my normal vision – it is on a wall back behind my desk, but in front of me , so I can turn slightly to read it. I update it every Sunday night, so I can look at it and see what I thought I was going to be working on all week. This simple thing helps me – so if project one feels like an anchor or a demon right now, maybe I can spend a little time on projects 3-4 and return back to the first one later when I am better prepared for it.
It is kind of like getting away from work, but you don’t – you just move away from things that are stifling you for the moment, and bring your attention to something with less of an ominous leer. You find something lighthearted to do, and let the ugly thing wait its turn.
It is important to note, you must be aware of your deadlines, and don’t sandbag – not to yourself or (god forbid) a client. That is not the point. The point, is to take a feeling of stress and anxiety – one that will often cause endless circles of inactivity – and channel it toward something easy. Toss yourself a bone, give yourself a break. With something you can accomplish rather quickly, doing it well and first can often be enough to restart your motors for the big nasty thing you are mentally (or overtly) dodging. When you see yourself doing well, it will often allow you to attack something more challenging with a better frame of mind: you are on a roll, remember.
A simple shift of the day’s workload, and many times you can get warmed-up before attacking and pounding down the more challenging lumps.
The Old Tricks Still Work
I have used lots of writer’s tricks in the past – like copying something from a book, stream-of-consciousness babbling to loosen the jets a bit, scanning headlines, using search engines, looking at my competitors, and on and on…they all can work to get you moving across the blank page. I particularly like stream-of-consciousness writing because the things I write from there are pretty entertaining. But only a few gigs actually pay me to do that – and generally speaking, the pay is not too bad for it. But most often, free-writing is more of a way to loosen-up before digging in deeper to something, and I find it works very well for me. Like stretching first if you were a runner considering a marathon.
The idea I am trying to get across here, is stress about doing well on a challenging task can create a mental block. It can for me, anyway. This can make it feel like no good ideas are coming in, or you are stuck with nowhere to go. Hopefully, the schedule is not always piled high with ONLY these kind of challenges, and there are a few things in any day’s work that are easier to achieve, but still very positive things to do. If you are struggling with the challenge, focusing on the mechanical, or smaller tasks can get you warmed-up and ready to attack the worst ones.
For me, it was important to realize that a mental block was there because I get too worried about doing well to keep moving forward. Reducing the worry of my success helped me to beat this, routinely: I finally realized I am very rarely going to be called on to measure my own quality anyway, so learned to let it go. My job is normally to create, not measure quality.
I used to start over-analyzing things when I needed instead, to be continually creating things for others to analyze. When I focused on more work, I ALWAYS overcame these hurdles – always. Now, I need to really think about this to come up with something to say. Too busy for writer’s block. 🙂
In a nutshell: Question: How do you overcome writer’s block? Answer: Get back to work, silly!