On any given day of writing, the writer will commonly range through every emotion there is (plus a couple others that haven’t been invented yet). When the emotions turn negative, they tend to attack the writer’s personhood, acting like an arrow that pierces your creative center.
Once the attack comes, your writing flow will be inevitably injured or stop altogether.
The good news is if you’re strong enough to cause yourself to stop writing, you’re strong enough to start it up again! You’re the boss of how you manage your creativity and your time, so when you need to fix your writer’s block, these 4 tricks work every time to burst through your block, get you back up and running, your flow re-flowing, and you feeling healthy and sure about your writing.
Fix Your Writer’s Block: 4 Tricks That Work Every Time
- Give permission
- Invite joy
- Get someone to tough love you
- Embrace kindness
With a flick of the right words, you can turn your self-doubt and writing paralysis into an easy flow of ideas. All you have to do is pause, take a breath, and give yourself permission.
Permission can look like a number of things:
It can be permission to fail (go ahead, it’s healthy to try and fail; that’s where the learning happens!)
– or permission to succeed (go ahead, it’s healthy to try and see your work come to life. That’s where the learning happens!)
It can also be permission to write to your lowest possible standard, or to write embarrassing, insipid, risky, careless, or deeply unflinchingly honest writing.
Giving yourself permission to “go for the jugular” as Natalie Goldberg advises in her excellent book Wild Mind (read her chapter “The Rules of Writing Practice”) or to write, as says Anne Lamott in her seminal book on writing, Bird by Bird a “shitty first draft,” which takes the pressure off of you to perform, removes your awareness or giving weight to others’ scrutiny, and allows you to write and to be present while you’re doing it.
Giving yourself permission to aim low allows you to write because you’re interested in seeing where your ideas take you, because you want to know how you really think or feel, and because you can allow your unconscious mind to go where it may never have before, and as if you were someone else, you’re excited, scared, and curious to know where that is.
It can be permission to love writing and to invest deeply in wanting to do it purely for the sake of doing it. permission to write even if it feels indulgent or selfish, setting aside thoughts of how you should be caring for your children or performing acts of charity or cleaning your stove.
Permission to take a moment to recognize that if you do allow yourself to write, you are nurturing your humanity, allowing yourself to be bigger, better, stronger, smarter, and all-over more. Permission to recognize you are doing good works for your family, your community, and the world at large.
Permission is glorious, and the minute you drop out of what you think you “should” be doing and into giving yourself the freedom, agency, and spirit to take part in the act of writing, you will feel your shoulders drop, your heart lighten, and your flow gently, gradually return.
Adulting is not all that fun most of the time. My daughter when standing with me at the bank the other day said, “I don’t want to grow up. I won’t know how to do this!” and it took all my courage to say that growing up was wonderful and special and she’d learn and it would all be OK (as opposed to “amen, sister. I still don’t know how to do this).
Being an adult means engaging in a near-endless stream of activities like talking to people in banks in order to make your life function.
That finding joy is like going on a scavenger hunt and one you have to carve out time for taking part in, and who has the time for that? (yes, I get what I did there).
But if you pause to consider: When do you feel joy or free? When do you feel whole? When do you access your real self, not the self who has to drag your poor kid after school to the bank?
The answer is probably: when you’re writing.
Invite joy by smiling, revelling in the fact that in writing you are entirely you, that regardless of what you’re writing, you’re engaged in an act of self, and that there is light and meaning in this whole body act.
Feel happy knowing you’re one with words, have the capacity to make meaning for yourself and for others, and for having the good fortune to be able to be alone with this act of creation whether for 10 minutes, 4 hours, or anything in-between.
When you’re not writing, make an active effort to invite joy into your daily life, which will keep your flow vibrant when you do sit down to write. Laugh more, play more, read more. Invite joy in any moment when you feel tired or bogged down. Invite it in, and it will fill you.
3. Get someone to tough love you
(Don’t be fooled by how cute we are (or, OK, you can be fooled a little). As writing coaches, editors, and mentors, we specialize in tough love to help our writers reach your writing goals).
There is literally nothing more energizing, more motivating, more confidence-building than having a partner in crime.
Getting someone to tough love you, whether it’s a friend, colleague, entity, or writing coach is an investment in making sure you feel buoyed through the difficult times, maintain a midline feeling of competence, and feel continuously reassured because you know someone has your back.
Writing’s challenges are many, but they are lessened when you have the perspective of an outsider to quiet your fears and remove the frizzle and worry.
Accountability partners or groups who have each other’s backs and push each other to be their best, catch you when you’re low, and celebrate with you when things are good, reduces the grey amorphous clouds that otherwise surround the writing process and make room for the sun.
This café in Tokyo gets it right and clearly loves supporting writers. The Manuscript Writing Café takes a hard line to support the writers who work there.
Writers show up and must set a goal (and receive unlimited coffee or tea to help fuel their work) and can choose from mild to regular to hard modes (which includes a staff member standing over the writer until they finish).
Patrons experience extreme productivity through this positive (and negative if they leave before finishing their work by seeing their name go up on the failure board!) environment.
James Clear in his book Atomic Habits uses a case study of a gym that rewards its members for showing up. If they show up every day, their membership fee is returned to them.
That simple act of tough love, of showing a level of investment and care in the success of others, is often enough of a feeling of partnership to get the writer (or exerciser) to rise to their best self and do the work.
At a grassroots level, if you run into a time when you can’t write, if you have a friend, partner, or writing coach you can reach out to, to holler for help across the chasm, their meeting you with support, a nudge, or a good word of tough love that you’re doing just fine is extremely effective for getting you back on track.
My goodness do people ever have a double standard when it comes to being kind. We value kindness highly when it comes to how we treat others, but we can be downright cruel when we talk to ourselves! Perhaps we’re so pent up from being kind to everyone else we have to take it out on someone?
Rather than beat yourself up when you can’t write and take yourself down a rabbit hole of attack, lift yourself up by embracing kindness as the best way to nurture yourself as a writer and help your flow restart.
Aphorisms or positive phrases are not just for Instagram posts; they can help you remember how wonderful, strong, and powerful you are:
- Write them on Post-it notes and stick them to your computer.
- Doodle them in your bullet journal.
- Say them aloud when you’re feeling low.
- Find a mantra (which when broken down in Sanskrit means “mind liberation”) that works for you and let it become part of the vocabulary of kindness you extend to yourself.
- Use phrases as a tool to liberate your mind from negative handcuffs and awaken good, whole feelings so they can rise to your consciousness.
These 4 tricks that work every time when you have writer’s block are not esoteric or difficult to apply; they’re designed to help you shift out of feeling stuck and back into flow within seconds.
The next time you can’t write, try one or all of these and see what works for you. Share your results in the comments, so we can celebrate with you and cheer you on!
And if you’re stuck and ready to be un-stuck, to slide into a new productivity you haven’t seen or felt in a long time (or ever) and to make some waves with your writing, please reach out for a chat. The support of a coach and mentor is always the ticket to getting back on track.