Have you ever thought about something scary and started sweating or panting?
That’s because our bodies and minds don’t discern the difference between what we tell ourselves and what actually happens. Conjure a mental image vividly and persistently and your body and mind will interpret it as reality.
In the case of writer’s block, tell yourself that you can’t write and your mind and body will believe you. That’s what I did.
Once upon a time I suffered through a prolonged period of writer’s block. I tried taking the advice of writing coaches to escape its clutches.
Read other writers for inspiration. Conduct more research. Write anything. Go to a coffee shop. Get some fresh air. Take a shower. Drink a beer. Sound familiar?
None of them worked for me. My body and mind were far more enthralled with the story that I was telling myself: I had lost my ability to write.
Clearly, I lived to write another day or you wouldn’t be reading this blog post. So, how did I finally wriggle loose? I took the path of personal insight or what I like to call a Zen approach to waking up from the illusion of writer’s block.
First, I started paying close attention to what I was telling myself about my writing and my life. Some people refer to this as mindfulness, which is an aspect of Zen, a spiritual “way of liberation,” as the great philosopher Alan Watts defined it. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to your thoughts and actions on purpose, without judgment.
Staring Down Fear of Failure
I stepped back from swirl of thoughts. I watched them like I was watching a movie on a screen. This objective state of awareness afforded me the distance to discover that at the root of my writer’s block was a stifling fear of failure.
The secret about fear is that staring it in the face obliterates it. It’s like turning on the lights to find there weren’t really any monsters under the bed after all, only an overworked imagination. So, instead of running from the notion that I would never write again, I embraced it. I imagined what life would be without it.
Once I played the drama all the way out to its bitter end, I was free. I could write a different story about the position that writing played in my life. My writing no longer loomed over me. I put it in its proper place as one aspect of my life.
Following are the steps I take to keep writer’s block at bay based on what I learned about myself during that difficult time:
1) Don’t Panic!
My primary source of income is writing. It feels like a matter of life or death when words don’t emerge on the page. Or, at least that’s what I told myself. Wow. Talk about pressure to perform!
It’s not surprising that my initial dot of worry swelled into a massive blob that consumed me. I trapped myself into thinking that a temporary lull in my writing flow amounted to a permanent freeze.
Now, if I hit a wall, I don’t panic. I simply accept that nothing is leaping forth at the moment. I have complete confidence that the inspiration will strike again. I know that “this too shall pass.”
2) Remember Your Primary Purpose in Life
My process of self-discovery showed me that I had a deep desire to identify as a writer. I felt inadequate without this label. Although it’s a foreign concept to many of us in the midst of our busy lives, I started focusing on the importance of simply being a human being first.
Now I embrace the notion that my primary reason for existing is simply to exist. My writing ability doesn’t define me. Writing flows through me, which is great, but whether or not I write doesn’t make me better or worse. Attaching to success or failure stifles innovation. Striving to outdo others or criticizing yourself is constricting and leads me to my next point.
3) Stop Comparing and Start Celebrating
It’s easy to compare yourself to other writers, especially in the world of social media where the blog across the street might have more comments and/or tweets than yours. This is an exercise in futility that will quash your creativity.
Everyone’s voice is different. My only obligation as a writer is to express my uniqueness. Accepting where I am without beating myself up has freed me to perform at my best. Instead of wasting precious energy worrying, I write with a sense of celebration for the opportunity to express my individuality.
4) Power Your Writing With the Present Moment
I used to think about failing before I even started writing. I also clung desperately to the few words that I managed to paint on the page, so I didn’t have the freedom to discard copy at will and welcome something new.
Now, I don’t even think about the outcome nor do I marry myself to what I’ve written. My writing rises from the present moment like a wave and unfolds before me like a hand-painted fan. I’m also open to destroying it with the delete button. I don’t force the words or form attachments to them. I let them emerge and evaporate as needed.
5) Clear Your Mental Clutter Through Meditation
Thoughts accumulate in our minds like temporary Internet files or unused icons on our desktops. They back up and slow down our mental processing power. Every morning I meditate for as long as I can to clear them out and free space for new ideas.
I believe that writer’s block is a trick of the mind. It’s a story we don’t have to tell ourselves. You have the power to write the story you want about your writing.
Amy Dean is President of Dean Public Relations, offering multi-channel communications strategies and execution to raise the visibility of businesses. She provides strategic communications consulting, media relations outreach and social media writing and counseling. Photos by Paul Goyette.