Breaking down writer’s block

It can be handy to visualize your writer’s block before you tackle it. Does it feel like a wall? Imagine pulling it down, brick by brick. Does it feel like a black hole? Imagine creating a swing of words and floating over the top. If it feels like your mother or father sitting on your shoulder, you have to turn around and shove them right back in the corner!

Every time you sit down and write, your block gets smaller. Every time you give into it, it gets bigger and harder to vanquish. So the best strategy is to have a routine that you move into every day – a habit you cultivate. It’s well-known (mostly by fitness gurus, but others, too) that if you can do something for 28 days, it will change your life. A little bit. Then you do it for another 28 days, if you need to.

I have applied this theory to several different things. A long time ago, I bought a notebook and committed to writing a poem a day for 28 days. It didn’t matter how bad it was, it was a 28 day promise to myself. I’ve also done it for walking – walked for 20 minutes every day for 28 days. Two years later, I’m still walking that 20 every single day. If I don’t, I feel twitchy.

"Wild Mind" by Natalie Goldberg was my key to crushing writer's block a few years ago.

If you’d like to get yourself into the writing habit, that’s what you aim for. So that every day you don’t write your minimum, you feel twitchy. So twitchy that you can’t go to bed until you have done it. (Yes, I have been known to walk at 9pm in the dark, and write a poem in bed before I go to sleep.)

So here are my best tips for getting you writing again – regularly!

  • Commit to writing for 20 minutes every day for 28 days, no matter what. It could be journaling, a poem a day, a page of your novel – the key word here is commitment.
  • If you are not sure what to write, use Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. She has all the rules of free writing (that stop you getting into that killer perfection mode) and plenty of starters.
  • Find a writing buddy and make the same promise, and then also promise to email whatever you wrote to them, and vice versa. Without reading. All the other person has to do is check word count (set 500 minimum).
  • If you are blocked on a big project like a novel, commit to writing for 20 minutes every day for 28 days, and make a list of all the little things you need to deepen your novel – interview characters, journal on plot ideas, work on character backgrounds, try two pages of nothing but dialogue – none of it needs to go into your novel at all, but you’ll find it will somehow feed it anyway, and make it richer.

Can you see the key word popping up in this post? Commitment. No matter what. You have to choose to push aside perfectionism, fear of failure and fear of looking stupid (and all those other fears) and commit to your craft – to your writing. Does it mean enough to you to make it real? To make it happen? If so, commit, and crush your writer’s block into dust.

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  1. Bookmarked! Although re-reading this instead of writing might be my new displacement activity! Turning writing into a habit rather than waiting for the muse to visit is excellent advice. You’ve also prompted me to get back to walking.

    • Walking gets to be a challenge, too, on frosty mornings and horrible hot afternoons! But then the habit (and the twitchiness) does kick in.

  2. fly2live says

    If my day’s been busy with others and doing things, I take my journal to bed and record the day as thoroughly as I can. Then in my writing notebook I create a 7 word story. Just to know I’ve done some writing for that day. Now though I’ve decided to write a 7 word story each day for 28 days just to see what’ll happen. . .
    Brenda K.

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