Writer’s block: 5 ways to push through and get unstuck

Writer’s block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you’ve written lately and see with absolute clarity that it is total dog shit.

Anne Lamott

Ah, writer’s block. Seen as a curse or a disease on many unsuspecting writers, it’s actually procrastination in disguise – and that’s something we’ve all experienced, in one way or another.

In this post, you’ll discover 5 ways to beat the block, take action and get some consistency back into your writing life. 

Understanding writer’s block

As with anything, the more you understand it, the more likely it is you’ll find solutions that work. 

Now you know writer’s block is a form of procrastination, you need to understand procrastination better in order to beat it. According to research done by the author and motivational speaker, Mel Robbins, procrastination is a form of stress relief. You have something on your to-do list that’s challenging and so for instant relief from the pressure, you procrastinate.

But that stress relief is only temporary. Sooner or later, you berate yourself for not doing the task. And to relieve that stress? Yup, you guessed it, you procrastinate even more. Procrastination, therefore, is a habit. One most of us adopt to varying degrees, but a habit nonetheless. 

So what’s the cure? Is there a way to get out of the procrastination loop and beat writer’s block?

The one-word cure for writer’s block

Action. 

Procrastination absolutely hates it when you take decisive action. So, as tempting as it is to redesign the kitchen cupboards or laminate the floor, the only way to take control of the ‘block’ is to power on through.

Now you may well be yelling at me right now. You know you need to take the action but you just can’t do it. It’s like you’re physically stuck. The thought of writing your chapter or section is too much to consider. You feel yourself reaching for the toolbox to put together a filing cabinet just to ease the tension.

But powering on through doesn’t have to be as painful or impossible as you might think. It’s time to look at some solutions.

5 ways to beat writer’s block

Here are five practical tips you can try to get unblocked and start to make progress with your writing again. 

  1. Use the 5-second rule 

If there’s one easy yet powerful way to beat procrastination, it’s the 5-second rule, a concept that’s been fully explored and developed by Mel Robbins in her book, The 5 Second Rule.

It’s about interrupting the five seconds between when you think about doing something and when your emotional brain kicks in and talks you out of it. As soon as you sit down to write, count back from five to zero and then go! 

Just start typing or planning or editing. It’s such a powerful technique for defeating procrastination and has worked for me on so many occasions.

To understand more about how this technique works, watch this short video by Mel where she explains the neuroscience behind it.

2. Break your writing task down into chunks

Your perception of the task ahead and how well you think you can tackle it is a big block for many people. If you think you’ll find it challenging, your brain will look for all the ways to prove you’re right. It’s called confirmation bias. You’ll recall all the times when writing felt hard and use it as evidence to back up your block.

You’ll then look for that quick stress relief that is procrastination. 

It’s no surprise really. When you think of writing a whole book, the process becomes daunting. Breaking it down into chunks is the only way to tackle it and ensure your action is consistent. Instead of thinking that you have to write a whole chapter, why not just take one section and focus on a couple of paragraphs? Sooner or later those paragraphs become whole chapters and those chapters become a whole book.

You’ll find this post about outlining helpful here too – you’ll discover how a book outline takes the overwhelm away from not knowing what to write. 

3. Build consistent habits

People may advocate writing when you feel like it, but I advise caution here. As author Jack London said, ‘You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’ Don’t wait for the muse or the moment to take you. It won’t. Only consistent action will encourage it to come out of hiding.

Establishing good writing habits is the answer to a lot of procrastination problems because it becomes part of your routine. Even if your writing habit is tiny to start with, just committing to 100 words a day, you’ll get a true sense of achievement each and every time you complete that target. It’s the work that motivates you, not the motivation that makes you work. 

For more support on establishing good writing habits, check out this post which has lots of practical ideas to put good writing habits in place to help beat writer’s block. 

4. Avoid perfectionism

Most cases of writer’s block happen because we set our expectations too high. We read the books on the shelves in the book shop and imposter syndrome kicks in. Will we ever be able to write like that? 

Rest assured, all the books you see in the shops have been through a shit load of edits and drafts. It’s not the writer’s first attempt. Nor will it be yours. At the first draft stage – when most cases of writer’s block rear their ugly heads – you must try to avoid perfectionism. 

Just write as if no one is reading – which, of course, they’re not. No one will read your first draft. No one. So get rid of the weight of other people’s expectations. You’ll only share the draft that you feel ready to share. 

So let the first draft be shitty. Let it be terrible. All first drafts are. Just write in the best way you can at this point. Editing is where the magic happens.

5. Find acceptance

‘The word block suggests you are constipated or stuck when the truth is that you’re empty.’

Anne Lamott 

Accepting you’re stuck or blocked is such a brilliant way to get rid of procrastination or writer’s block. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the feeling for what it is. You’re stressed about the prospect of writing – that’s not unheard of. All writers feel it at some point. For me, it’s usually in the depths of the boggy middle of my manuscript.

In her book, Bird by Bird, author, Anne Lamott, suggests writing anything you can think of – even if it’s unrelated to the book. A stream of consciousness, thoughts about the day, a funny thing that happened on the bus. Anything to just get something down. And then step back. Step away for a few days. Do other things you enjoy and soon you’ll replenish that cup of ideas and enthusiasm for your work. 

Accepting you’re out of ideas, for now, is such an important part of the process. Once we’ve exhausted our efforts, we need to refill that cup in other ways that make us feel happy or creative. It might be time spent walking in nature or reading your favourite book. It might be a box-set binge. Whatever works for you. 

And soon you’ll find that your ideas cup is re-filled and you’re ready to get back to your book.

So which of these will you try? For more support on writing your book, why not get a copy of Dare to Write? It walks you step-by-step through the book writing journey, as well as giving you tips and advice on mindset, habits and the publication process.

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