Lesson 3

What to do when you’re super blocked

John Steinbeck — Quote on Writing when you're super blocked

In our last email, we looked at procrastination – the everyday variety that everyone experiences at one time or another – and gave you a few tips to overcome it. But sometimes, there are rather deeper reasons than the latest Game of Thrones box set behind why you can’t get down to work.

Dr. Robert Boice – who we introduced in our last lesson – writes about the concept of ‘blocking’ that some writers experience. Blocking isn’t just about postponing something you find difficult or using delay tactics. Rather it’s when, as a writer, you get stuck entirely, and your writing grinds to a halt – this typically happens towards the middle of a long writing project.

According to Boice, blocking occurs in part because writers start to realize that they are going to show the words they’ve been slaving over to the world. They experience what he calls ‘paralyzing anxiety and uncertainty’ at the thought of being publically evaluated.

In short, writers are held back by the worst writing partner you can have – your inner critic.

ACTION: Try Freewriting

Blocked writers do not despair! There is one proven method that authors frequently use to purge themselves of their inner critic and get off the starting blocks and that’s freewriting. Freewriting – or Morning Pages as it’s sometimes branded – involves splurging words onto the page as a way to get the writing flowing.

Early morning is often a good time to do this because it can be quieter, plus you’re feeling half asleep which tends to mean you’re less critical of your words. Just the process of starting to write is a proven way to take the blocks out of the way and get the ideas to flow.

There aren’t any rules to what you can and can’t write about – the key is to put aside 15 minutes then just start. But crucially:

  • Don’t stop to consider your words. Write anything that comes into your head.

  • Don’t wait for a beautiful first sentence to appear. Just start with whatever’s in your head.

  • Don’t edit your words. Freewriting is all about the words flowing out of you – don’t look back.

  • Don’t judge your work. Freewriting isn’t about getting beautiful prose down on the page it’s about exercising your creative muscle.

So, don’t let your inner critic – your worst possible writing buddy – get the better of you. Book in a daily splurge of writing to get the creativity flowing again.

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