Somewhere between my fourth and fifth Nor-Cal margarita, I began doing what I promised myself that I would never do. I became a complaining writer.
"I just can't seem to make any words come out of my head," I said. "I sit down and nothing comes out."
My audience, a pair of veteran reporters, silently looked at me while sipping their drinks. Finally, Ethan, an investigative reporter who rarely stops long enough to have a drink, asked a question. "You have writer's block, huh?"
I sighed. "Yeah. I guess so."
"That's cute," he said, smirking a little.
What?! Where was my sympathy? The knowing looks from fellow writers who know the pain, the anguish, the spiritual longing that was writer's block? Come on' people!!!
Mark, the other guest at the table, whose background as a critic and reviewer expanded almost twice my lifetime, finally made it clear for me.
"Michael," he said, pausing for effect, "writer's block is a luxury that people like us can't afford."
And with that, everything changed for me.
If writers with their kinds of deadlines can move past writer's block every day, than we can move through it it, too. So, I set on a mission to rid myself of writer's block. I looked through book after book and learned what the masters have said.
After all of that research, this is the formula I have found that has skyrocketed my writing (2,000 day avg.) and, better yet, allows me to continually finish the work I've started. I believe that this can work for you, too. Give a try, tweak it, and make it connect to your life. Let me know what happens in the comments.
One of the most difficult things for me to do when locked into "production mode" is to stop and read somebody else's work, go see a movie, or even go for a walk. The truth is however, that most of the time I sit at the computer is because I feel like I have run out of things to say.
Our ideas seem so much bigger than they really are once they begin to hit the page. We need ideas, angles, and emotions that we want to explore throughout. One of the known best ways to stay in that creative and resourceful state is to leave time for intake.
Application: Schedule at least an hour everyday for proactive intake (reading, film, or music).
Do you want to be like the greatest writers in history? Take a walk.
Many authors have gone on record to speak about how writing was absolutely vital to their create work, some even suggesting that taking the time to go for a walk ahead of your writing time was worth the loss of writing time, making up for it in quality.
Application: Take a half hour walk just prior to writing time.
3) Detaching From Results
For me and many others, the fear of sucking has often paralyzed my work. I might rewrite a sentence over and over again, never quite getting it right. I call it writing, but it's really neurosis.
3 time Best Selling Author Tim Ferriss studied this for himself, eventually learning from a very experienced ghostwriter's secrets of massive productivity. I'm paraphrasing here, but this is essentially the version that Tim told on more the one occasion.
IBM sales force was well known in their industry as the dominant presence. Their consultants were hitting astronomical numbers in comparison to their competitors. The secret? They also had the lowest quotas. When the month started, there wasn't fear about hitting their numbers. Instead, they got to have fun and compete.
So, we can apply that our writing. Instead of trying to write something perfectly, Tim tries to "write two shitty pages every day". Another similar but equally powerful technique is to first pray to write the worst page you in the history of written language before you begin to write.
These might sound silly, but it's eye opening to see how well these work.
Application: Set a smaller, yet well defined writing goal each day. Try to write terrible work and be okay with it. You can always fix it in editing.
4. Build A Habit
Much has been written (by writers no less!) on the vital importance of building a writing habit by doing a bit work every single day. This can be difficult to figure out at first for many of us. In my case, I went to bed and woke up earlier, realizing that my writing was more important to me than whatever I did to keep me up late, anyway.
But, neuroscientists have given us a great clue into how to build and positively re-enforce a new habit. While it's worthy of it's own blog post (or book, see "The Power Of Habit" by Charles Duhigg), here are the broad (and very actionable) strokes.
Trigger - Consistently perform some sort of "trigger action" before writing, like going for some sort of walk, for instance. Then, sit down and get to it. By doing the same action each day, your brain begins to associate the first action with the next. Eventually, going for a walk will tell your brain to get writing.
Write - Words on ze page, yeah?
Reward - Reward yourself for having followed through with the habit. Make sure to smile while doing it and enjoy yourself.
These three things, conscientiously repeated over time, will begin to have a powerful effect on your ability to sit down and write each day.
There you have it. After much research, my own personal formula for never getting writer's block. Try it yourself and let me know how it works out.