How to Break Your Writing Block Forever–for Good

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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

– Maya Angelou

For a long time, I believed the common wisdom about being a more productive writer.

IMG_6754I took the usual advice about setting small steps, getting on a schedule and visualizing the end goal. But I could never follow through. Was there something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stick with the program? Had I just not found the right tool yet?

I began to wonder if I had what it took. Were deeper issues keeping me from achieving my high-minded dream?

I suspected there were many writers like me–I hoped there were–how else could there be so much instruction out there on how to write? But I still felt all alone in my struggle and everyone else seemed able to write a novel in a month or make all the tools and tips work for them. I liked the tips at first, but after a couple weeks, I was unable to keep it up. Maybe it’s only when you’ve tried those tools and found them insufficient that you know you’ve got a deeper issue. Maybe I was fundamentally broken–and emphasis on the mental part.

So I began to wonder, How do you know if you need to deal with a deeper root problem?

Instead of just continuing to feel inadequate, embarrassed, maybe lazy, when is it time to ask why, if you do want to write, don’t you do it?

As a writer, I can honestly say this is the writing problem I’ve struggled with most. And an editor and coach, this is where I’ve decided to specialize because the psychological anguish–the angst of being stymied, blocked, obstructed, hornswaggled, constipated– it turns out the struggle is not unusual.

Most of my authors admit they’ve experienced it–and the rest are big fat liars.

The issue is soul deep, and no matter how simple the “steps to success” appeared, nothing else worked for me before this.

The tools and tips about practices or methods may become useful after sorting out this one thing. But for me, there was a psychological tool I needed that freed me to ignore a lot of practical writing advice.

It was permission.

walk

I know. It sounds weak. But basically, I needed permission to stop focusing on productivity. If you find you can’t be productive, just stop trying, and start be unproductive. If you can’t progress, let go and rest in the process.

You’ve likely been sabotaging yourself.

Despite my best efforts to write, I’d always end up rebelling and running off into ever-more elaborate distractions. I’d get a new tip and write hard for a few days but eventually I’d resent the work again and go numb out on all kinds of surrogate thrills.

Then I’d find another writing coaches’ idea (there are plenty!) about getting a separate computer, or using Pomodoros, or setting rewards. And they’d work for a few days, then completely stop working when I’d fail and become wracked with guilt, lament my hopeless situation again, and swear on Merlin’s beard I’d find the lasting method for ultimate flow and actualizing optimum productivity….

Or whatever.

But now, after well over 10 years of on-and-off-again novel-writing, I found my answer. It’s a deceptively simple method that effectively erases what I produce as the end goal of sitting down to write.

If you’re prone to over-analysis and perfectionism, this could solve your problem of low productivity forever. Ready?

Give yourself permission to stop being productive.

deer

That’s it. Instead of focusing on the product, the word count, the perfect words needed for the Book, focus on the process of getting yourself the cup of tea, cup of coffee, cup of gin. Then sit down, open the document and read some of it.

Okay, probably not gin. But if you ever “use” alcohol, I hope you’ll try this….

And if this isn’t for you, you’ll know it because this will sound stupid and only losers would try it. But sometimes the only way to get a stubborn donkey to move is to stop pushing it.

Show up and open the document and stare at it for a while. Sure it doesn’t look like much. But learn to sit with your words and do not judge them. It does simplify things.

You are hereby not required to try a bunch of productivity tips that will only mask your issue and complicate your process.

And, best of all, you have complete permission not to write a word.

If you struggle with productivity, make this your new intention immediately: shift your thinking to not writing new words but simply reading the old ones you’ve already written.

Do not judge or edit anything; just allow your brain to enjoy what you’ve written so far, i.e. be proud of what you’ve accomplished, i.e. make yourself feel good, i.e. experience what you were ditching your writing for right here.

You know, basically outsmart your inner rebel.

lightBelieve me, before I did this, I’d always find a way to get out of writing. And what changed everything was realizing I wanted to feel good about this.

Oh, I always talked a big game about the “real” work of being diligent and willing to face fear. But something inside, some resentment about having to face hard stuff all the time and write it down, it needed resolving.

And comfort was elsewhere–in myriad other places (at least the quicker, easier, temporary kind).

Until I stopped pushing and saw my writing pain was legitimate and deserved to be felt and dealt with, all my muscling to a word count, or will-power to stay on task was short-lived. And it produced no meaningful work. Distraction was always a step away to grab me and send me back to the start, spiraling toward failure and more self-loathing.

So here’s your ticket to freedom: read your words as part of your process for freeing yourself and gain strength to face the dragon guarding your cave.

Eventually you will win just by showing up.

And each day you do, you’ll have less chance of forgetting that this is how life-changing books get written. Whatever it may seem to anyone else, feeling good about all you’re capturing is how you continue to write your way out. Day in, day out.

One healed piece at a time.

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

– Walter Wellesley Smith

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick

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13 thoughts on “How to Break Your Writing Block Forever–for Good”

  1. Just this morning I canceled my membership to a coaching slash cheer-leading slash writing group partly because I felt I couldn’t measure up to all the more prolific, more talented, more successful members. I felt so inferior and left out most of the time with the rest of the group, I didn’t think I fit in anymore. I just can’t produce at a steady pace, and wore my emotional energy out by comparing – always coming up short. Your words explain exactly why….I’m not a writing machine and I’m not sure now why I ever wanted to be. I guess we all want to be like those we perceive to be successful, but we miss our calling when we fret over productivity. How I long for the gift of writing relaxation, answering only to the One who gives the gift. Just to take joy again in the process – this is my new goal. I have so much to learn about writing, but I have to know it will come whether I hurry or not. Thanks, Mick. Your word speak hope to me today.

    1. So glad you could use it, my friend. Keep basking in that full mercy of permissive grace. It is your Father’s gift to you. Much love, M

  2. With the busyness of life, I felt like I couldn’t give writing the time it deserved. I don’t write well while I wait for my coffee, for my kids at practice, or in the line at a grocery store (a friend does that, yikes). What has been tricky is that I was feeling that they loved the craft more than me. Like if I didn’t devote every free second to getting words done, I was as passionate and serious as they were.

    That messes with ones head. But serious, how good could those rushed words be?

    This post comes on such a beautiful day. I love story telling, I respect the craft, the work and quiet it takes to go into it that I don’t ever want to take disrespect those responsibilities by forcing words because I feel like I have to.

    Today I read what I wrote, smiled, and then closed my laptop. I will continue to practice not being productive and wait and listen. I’ve seen what happens in the waiting and it’s too precious to miss out on.

    Many thanks for this permission!!!

    1. You said it! “How good could those rushed words be?” Hype. Hooey. When rushed, no one writes well. Relax first. Then the words. There’s no writing without stillness. Even if it’s only for a few minutes.

  3. I had to come back to this because I’ve wrestled with it so much for the past few years. When I’m feeling confident in going down God’s writing path for me, the enemy is quick to attack me with lies saying that I must do more, more, more! In my case, less is more. Ha, that’s so cliche to say, but it’s so true!

    Getting to this place has taken many lessons over the years, but gosh dang, the less is more thing is one amazing place that I want to dwell in :)

    I need this reminder that grace wins every time. High five!

    1. You and me both, my ambitious, capable, perfectionistic friend. :) I love how you take these thoughts in and feel them attach to your process. I’m very honored and happy my experiences are useful like that. It confirms and supports my ow process. -M

  4. Perfectionist, BAHAHAHA no way! You’ve mentioned that word a few times now so I’m wondering in terms of writing…

    Mick, this is closure for me. It bothered me so badly that I let people make me feel like I didn’t love writing as much as they did because I didn’t put in as much time as them or devote every free second to getting words down or, well, let it consume my life. Has anyone else felt like that? Inferior? Ugh, looking back I see how silly it all was and I’m happy I journaled through it all. Thank you for letting me share here. Okay, I’m done now with this, and freeeeeeeee!

  5. Wow. Just the affirmation I needed, Mick.

    “How good could those rushed words be?” What a line that Jenelle wrote. I think that will stick with me forever.

    The interesting part is, I’ve started writing again, now that my life is allowing it more freely and I am not trying to push it so much. I am enjoying it so much more and the writing is better.

    I’ve also realized that taking time off from writing was the best thing I could have done. I have gone through so many changes over the last year; I know for a fact that the book I write today will be very different than the one I would have written over a year ago. I am so thankful I let go of it then because it will be so much better now! That’s the beautiful thing that can happen if we let go of expectations and listen to that still, small Voice deep inside of us.

    Thanks, my friend!! Keep doing what you’re doing – you encourage us!

    1. That’s great to hear–and yes, you’ve been through a lot to change and develop you. Keep taking your time to get acquainted with her. The rewards will be incredible. Grateful for your kind support all these years. -M

    2. Sherri, that is awesome! I also took a break and marinated on the main character and the plot. The heart of my story changed as well and is much more deeper and all around better. Looking forward to hearing more about your journey, friend :)

  6. Thank you Mick. You are a great encourager to many. I appreciate many of the comments from the other writers, too. We’re all wired uniquely and learning to appreciate what works for each of us–even different mindsets during seasons–must surely be a sweeter aroma to our Creator than others’ version of what ‘real’ writers should do. Of course, teachability, discipline, growth & change nourish our writing, but honoring the stillness and trusting the Lord will filter through–well, that’s grand!

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