When writing roadblocks come up, you feel like the loneliest writer on the planet. I promise, though, that this happens to all writers — professional, first-time, whatever. The important thing is to have a plan to work around these creative blocks and get back to writing. So much writing advice tells you, “Sit your butt in the chair and get the words written. If your goal is to write 1,000 words, then sit there until you write 1,000 words. Period.” That sounds great in theory, but that’s not always realistic. Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that, at the first sign of not knowing what word to write next, you throw in the towel for the day. (Sorry!)
Of course there are countless creative blocks, but the four I hear the most about from my book writing clients (all of which I’ve faced over the years myself) are:
- Creative lapse (AKA writer’s block)
- Self-doubt (AKA missing mojo)
- Self-sabotage (AKA ugly inner critic)
Writing is like a muscle. The more you use that muscle, the stronger it's going to be. Essentially, you train your brain to write. Have you heard the phrase “use it or lose it”? If you don’t use a muscle, it atrophies. So writing is not just about being a good reader and deciding you want to write. You have to practice writing. Every day. Doing so will (eventually) give you confidence to know that you can write.
Remember that you have knowledge to share and value to provide. When you’re writing, shift your thinking so that the focus is on your audience and what you’re providing to them. It's not all about us; it's about them.
Sometimes when we feel out of our element, we feel like we’re impostors. Or maybe we feel like a real writer would know what to do in this situation. Take it from someone who’s worked with many such people: That’s not always the case. I hear a lot from writing coaching clients, “My writing is awful.” We doubt ourselves and especially our ability. Let this sink in so that you can stop pressuring yourself: Everybody’s first draft is awful. You can edit bad writing. You and an editor can improve writing that you think is bad but probably isn't that bad. You cannot improve a blank page. You cannot edit a blank page. You cannot publish a blank page. You can't do anything until those words are written.
When doubt creeps in, try to remember the value you have to give to your audience. Then it’s a matter of staying the heck out of your own way. (Easier said than done, I know!)
Entrepreneurs know burnout, right? We work too hard, we stay up too late working, we check our phones before our feet even hit the floor in the morning. We’ve got all these ideas, and a lot of us are control freaks. (I include myself in that.) So we’re get what burnout looks like.
When you think about writing a book, remember that you’re still running a business. Trying to fit writing a book into this already-busy schedule and add one more thing to the plate and one more thing to the list ... well, we’re ripe for the picking to burn out at that point.
You therefore need a realistic writing plan. You’ve seen, I’m sure, writing programs that promise a book in a month or in 30 days or in a weekend. I caution you to consider the often-unrealistic expectations some of those programs set up for people. Don’t commit to writing your manuscript in 30 days if your children’s babysitter will b on vacation for two of those weeks. Don’t commit to writing every morning for 60 minutes if you’re a night owl. Frustration leads to burnout so quickly when writing.
Having, and then managing, realistic expectations —that’s how you combat burnout when it comes to book writing.
What is there to say about self-sabotage? Again, we just really need to get out of our own way. People — all of us — are so good at criticizing ourselves, right? My friend Ashley Cox of Sprout HR reminds me, “Give yourself grace.” Treat yourself and your writing the way you would treat someone else and someone else’s writing: Understand where there’s room for improvement (and there always is), but don't be overly critical of yourself. That feeds into any writing-related fears you may have. (We talked about fears in this post [LINK].) I want you to move forward on the path to published author, not be stuck at a standstill.
So how, exactly, do we get out of our own way and deal with these roadblocks? Take a break. Reset your brain. This is definitely not rocket science, but sometimes you just need to hear someone else say it, right? Take a 10-minute break. Take a walk around the block or your neighborhood. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Take your laptop to your local coffee shop or park, if weather permits. Go to the library, if you need quiet or if you don’t like noise. Sometimes a simple change of scenery is all you need, even if that’s just another room within your own house or apartment. Play with your pet for a few minutes. Sometimes it really is that simple. If all else fails, I say have a dance party. Put on some Justin Timberlake, and dance it out for a few minutes. (It can’t hurt, right?) Just give your brain a chance to reset itself. After that, yes, it’s time for the dreaded “butt in chair.” Sit down and try to write. If you give it a few more minutes and still nothing happens, then I say call it a day and adjust your writing schedule. Things happen. That doesn’t make you a bad writer, and that doesn’t mean you won’t finish your book; it just means you’re having a bad day. Do not force creativity. It’s counterproductive to try. Reset your brain, give it a rest, and try again tomorrow.
What do you do when creativity comes to a standstill? Let me know in the comments.
Want a worksheet to help you identify your creative roadblocks?