An author's advice on writer's block
For this blog post, we turned to the founder of SME Ink and Travel Ink, Karen Osman who in case you didn't know also happens to be a best-selling novelist. As a small business owner, you'll need to create a lot of content that captures what you do. And, it's not always easy! Maybe you're not trying to pen your own masterpiece like Karen, but her advice about beating writer's block is a must-read to get the words flowing.
I’ve been sharing writing advice blog posts for almost a year and have never written one about writer’s block. Until now. The reason I’ve avoided this topic is because I’ve never really believed in it. Yes, there are days when I’m feeling less inspired and my work is questionable, but I’m still writing. I’m still creating.
Secondly, I’m also a little superstitious. Editor and author John Alvin explained it well when he said:
“I’m superstitious about writer’s block to the extent I don’t particularly feel like devoting a great deal of time to dwelling on it. It seems like getting stuck in a desert, a nightmare. But there are definitely times when the inspiration flows more freely than not. It seems to me that writing is a muscle: it gets stronger the more you use it. If you let yourself fall out of the habit, it can be hard to get back in form.
Finally, as an ex-journalist, an editor would throw me out of their office if I said I couldn’t meet their deadline because I had writer’s block. If you’re a journo reading this, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. News moves fast and if you can’t keep up the pace, you’re out.
So, why now?
During the height of the pandemic, I found it difficult to be creative and inspired and most of my writing was put on hold. It was probably the closest I’ve come to experiencing a block and I know many other writers and creatives went through something similar. More importantly, I still get asked about this topic on a regular basis, so I know many of you would like to know more about how to deal with it should it arise.
Whether you believe it exists or not, writer’s block has been well studied. It’s defined as: a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece. In the 1970s, Yale clinical psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios came up with four broad causes for it:
Fear of comparison to other writers
Lack of external motivation
Lack of internal motivation
I’ve suffered from all of these at one point or another. I would also add factors such as isolation, perfectionism, and boredom, all of which have been my personal challenges. So if you’re feeling less than inspired, here are ten things to try to overcome writer’s block starting with:
1. Identify the root cause
During the pandemic, I was given the responsibility for my children’s education, and I found it so stressful, so consuming, it became impossible to focus on anything else. Once my children went back to school, magically the words flowed again. There are different root causes for everyone. For Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Annette Gordon Reed, her block indicates she hasn’t done enough research:
“When I have writer’s block it is because I have not done enough research or I have not thought hard enough about the subject about which I’m writing. That’s a signal for me to go back to the archives or to go back into my thoughts and think through what it is I am supposed to be doing.”
2. Write the most exciting part first
Why start at the beginning (which can feel overwhelming) when you can dive right into the action? Write the most exciting bit first and use this to get your momentum going.
3. Get physical
As much as I hate to admit it, I notice an increase in my writing quality on the days I move, especially if I exercise in the morning. It gets the day off to a more positive start, which flows into my work. It’s not always an intense gym session either; I find stretching or a walk work just as well.
4. Commit to writing for ten minutes a day
Even if you feel you have nothing useful or creative to say, write anyway. Whether it’s a list of your key messages or a paragraph about why you do what you do, writing regularly will make it so much easier to get stuck into longer pieces of content when you need to.
5. Get inspired by a different medium
Watch a film, go to an art exhibition, or visit a museum. Sometimes, experiencing and interacting with a different form of creativity is all that’s needed to reignite your passion for the written word.
6. Take a break
There’s always a point in a manuscript, usually just before the mid-point, where I feel disheartened. I’ve written a lot by this time, am feeling quite tired, and the doubts about my ability are much more insistent. When this happens, I usually take a longer break, a week if I can manage it, to recoup my energy and get into a better frame of mind. I always return feeling more optimistic and able to tackle the next half.
7. Change your location
It’s hard to stay creative when you’re in the same place for long periods of time and if you’re writing from home, it’s even harder when you might be surrounded by people also working from home. In Dubai, we’ve been lucky enough that cafes and restaurants have stayed open for the most part so one day a week, I head out to a coffee shop to work. It’s one of my most productive days. Seek out the places that inspire you the most.
8. Focus on progress not perfection
Perfectionism has caused me writing paralysis in the past. If this happens to you, then remind yourself that you’re only writing a first draft. There will be plenty of time to edit and polish further down the line and it removes the pressure of trying to get it right first time.
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