• Advice

Dealing with writer’s block (again)

It is not uncommon for writers to hit a wall.

The wall can be the result of underdeveloped ideas, lack of motivation, distractions, lack of clarity, and/or life. It is the last one that gets most of us.

Writer’s block is enough to make the most seasoned person take a time out and even contemplate quitting. Unfortunately, there is no way to forecast exactly when it is going to happen, but it happens.

The key, paradoxically, is not attempting to avoid it, but coming up with coping strategies to help you deal with it when it does occur. In other words, we have to do our best to prepare ourselves to push through and to write on.

Too often, as writers, we meander as we try to get our words out of our heads and on to a sheet of paper. Wouldn’t life just be easier if we could skip that step and our readers could meet us at the genesis of our ideas and simply understand everything that we are trying to say?

Of course that's not plausible, so it’s up to us to make sure that we are clear in our expression of thought. For some, that can lead to anxiety, angst, fear, and blockage.

Telling a writer to ‘just calm down’ or ‘get over it’ are not helpful—at all. These sentiments, instead, do more harm than good as they don’t really acknowledge that writing can be incredibly difficult and even painful, even for skilled writers.

So, what can a writer do?

Unfortunately, some of us sacrifice our well-being and are in perpetual hamster-on-a-wheel mode. We are moving, but we aren’t going anywhere.

When this happens, ask yourself: When is the last time that I did something for me? Not my career, not my family, not my friends, and not my community, but simply for me because I deserve it.

If it helps, start keeping a journal of how many hours a week you spend writing versus other things. How many of those hours are dedicated for writing? Do you have 5 hours to yourself and you spend 3 minutes of those hours writing? This may seem like a hyperbole, but until you actually track where you spend your time, you just might be amazed by where you are NOT spending your time.

One of my sister’s favorite expressions is, “You are doing too much.” And perhaps, you are. It is possible that your writer’s block is connected to stress? Try de-stressing and see if that opens up a space for your creative and intellectual energies to flow.

For many professional writers, we are goal-driven overachievers who have found a way to convert our skills, talents, and gifts into profitable enterprises. The thought of slowing down or stopping may seem oxymoronic, but it is necessary.

I find that burnout often occurs when we don’t have the stamina to keep up at our current pace or we are engaging in practices that are not sustainable. Let’s be honest, operating on 3 to 4 hours of sleep is not optimal, yet some of us do it on a daily basis. And then we get up expecting to just chisel away at the keyboard—is that realistic?

My number one antidote to writer’s block is self-care. Take the time to do things that refuel you.

When my soul is fed, I write. In fact, I write a lot. While coaching clients, I find that the key is being proactive and not reactionary to the demands of writing. Once you sense that you are losing vigor, it’s time to rethink your action plan.

I do three things that have worked quite well:

  1. Step back
  2. Reevaluate
  3. Reprioritize

In other words, tackle the things that are most time sensitive and urgent then make a plan for everything else, keeping in mind that you need to set aside some time for you. If it is appropriate and the project calls for it, lean on others to help you with it or see if someone in your support system can help you with your other responsibilities so that you can just write.

Writing is often a solitary act and many writers tend to forget that your words are an extension of you, so when you are your best self, it positions you to do your best work.

Write on!

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.