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Time to Love Your Writer’s Block (Seriously)

Is it time for you to love your writer’s block?

What? Are you crazy?

Okay, maybe not love it. I mean, writer’s block is a terrible thing. It likes to sit between you and a deadline. Between you and finishing your first manuscript. Or between you and the publisher’s advance upon delivery of the second book in your series.  It’s an obstacle you have to overcome to reach your goals.

Right?

writers-block opportunity

Having Writer’s Block Can Actually Be Kind of Wonderful

Do you know what writer’s block is? It’s just the stenographer in your head has pulled down the shutters and clocked out for the day. Or for two days. Or two weeks. Whatever.

But wouldn’t you agree that the hard work being done in your head is not the literal transcription of your thoughts into sentences of genius; the hard work happens when you dream up, think through and mull over the concepts you’re going to put to words.

Getting the words into my word processor isn’t such a fight when I’ve got plenty of mulled, thought-through things rolling around in my grey matter.

And writer’s block? It lets the slow accretions of thoughts and ideas build up, and build up, until my writing brain looks not like a mild country creek, but like a roiling river carving a new space through the landscape.

That can only happen in the fallow periods of writer’s block.

Writer’s Block Reminds You that You Need Self-Care (Tweet This)

Too often, writers confuse writing with recreation. Even those of us who do it professionally sometimes say something like, “I don’t need a vacation. Writing makes me feel energized!” Or, “I’ve been sitting on my bum all day. I don’t need to ‘rest.’” Or even, “Writing is how I stay sane!”

This is sweetly endearing and when I say these things, makes me believe I’ve got simply superlative work ethic, but it’s wrong.

Writing is work, hard work, and my brain and my soul really do need that break. I really do need to rest. My sanity depends on things other than writing to survive.

And if I forget, sooner or later writer’s block will remind me.

Turn Writer’s Block from an Obstacle to an Opportunity (Tweet This)

When writer’s block strikes you, there’s no reason to panic. (Okay, panic if you’re on a deadline with lots of money at stake, but in other situations, definitely don’t panic.) Instead:

1) Remind yourself that this is your brain’s way of asking for a time-out. Your stenographer is off the clock. The creek’s run dry. Whichever metaphor you use, you can’t, and shouldn’t, continue. That’s ok.

2) Analyze your body. How’s your back? Have you stretched? Are your eyes dry or itchy? Do your wrists hurt? Get up and away from your writing spot, and tend to yourself. Treat your back to a warm compress, your wrists to a roller ball or some self-massage, your eyes to some eye drops or just a little nap on the couch, mouth open. Snore all you like.

3) Start feeding your brain. It’s hungry. It’s tired and grumpy. Just like you’d take a kid home from the circus if they were tired, take your brain away from the bright lights and constant demands. Seek out nature if you feel like you’re wrung out. Seek some light and some people-watching at the local mall if you feel cooped-up and aggravated.

4) Be deliberate about the fact that you are caring for your writing brain. Wherever it is in your brain that your writing talent comes from, treat it as an instrument, one as valuable as your pen or your laptop.

If you have to give your brain a tune-up, be purposeful about it, and don’t let guilt or excuses come between you and much-needed brain time. Reading a book, getting a night (or three in a row) out with friends, or even just putting your toes in some sand and listening to water lap the edges of a nearby pond is just as important as medicine (and cheaper, so there’s that).

It helps me when I think of writer’s block as my brain deliberately taking me on a vacation, and once I’ve done what I needed to, the writer’s block usually goes away on its own.

What about you? When are you prone to writer’s block? Do you find strategies like these helpful?

Share in the comments!

PS: Like the image for this post? Click here to download the Printable Poster Size version.

About Shanan Haislip

I'm a full-time business writer, an essayist, and webmaster at The Procrastiwriter, a blog about ways to fit writing in around a full-time life (without going insane). I'm also a regular contributor on PositiveWriter.com and contributed to The Audacity to be a Writer. Join me on Twitter at @Write_Tomorrow.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • Charles Ray

    I don’t get writer’s block because I learned a long time ago the need to take breaks and let your mind and body recharge. The other cause of writer’s block – fear of rejection or failure – I also deal with by stepping away from the work in progress and focusing on something else. I write something, even a book review, every single day. I get exercise every day. I make journal entries (character sketches, story ideas, etc.) every day. Been doing it for over 40 years, and it seems to work for me.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    GREAT points you make here Bryan about writer’s block…I totally tend to forget to pay attention to not only my brain, but my body needing to “clock out”. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Well, thank you, Caryn. But this post is actually by the brilliant Shanan. 🙂

      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

        Oh I missed that! Well kudos to Shanan 🙂 Excellent post.

  • A lot of truth to this! Too often we react to writer’s block as if we’ve failed somehow as authors. We should accept that our cognitive powers need a break, and restore our creative mojo by allowing the subconscious part of our brains rise to the surface.

  • Sage suggestions, Shanan. I think it’s easy to discount how exhausting it can be to write day in and day out. You tell yourself you’re ‘not doing anything physical,’ so there’s no reason you should feel so tired.’ Wrong….I find a nice walk with the dog or an afternoon getaway to a nearby museum is always a good way to break through the block. Thanks for casting the ‘problem’ in a new light….

    • True…I always wonder why we concern ourselves with whether or not we “deserve” rest, or if we have a good reason to be tired. It’s a biological need, not a moral one.

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    WOOHOO – have I found my kindred spirit? Someone who procrastinates more than she writes, who researches more than she writes and who agonizes over not having written (more than she writes!)? 😉
    LOVED your post, Shannon, and LOVE the name of your website – you have a new fan 😉
    Kit

    • Thanks Krithika-you described my writing tendencies perfectly! Glad to know I’m not alone.

  • Tammy Schaefer

    This is great Bryan! I’ve always viewed my writing as selfish and goofing off. Thanks for reminding me it’s hard work and sometimes I need a vacation. Recently, I’ve found it helpful to journal through my writer’s block, because mine usually comes from trying to write perfectly! It’s helped me a lot and now I have loads of material to go back to when I’m ready and even had some clarity on where to start on my next project. Thanks for sharing!

    • I journal, too. Totally agree. And thank you, but this post is by Shanan. 🙂

  • Susan Mary Malone

    I love this post, Shanan! You hit squarely the big purple elephant in the room, which writers would prefer to try and stuff under the rug. Which only makes it grow.

    I just LOVE : “It lets the slow accretions of thoughts and ideas build up, and build up, until my writing brain looks not like a mild country creek, but like a roiling river carving a new space through the landscape.

    That can only happen in the fallow periods of writer’s block”

    SO true! I read a study recently on this very thing, which showed how being bored actually fosters creativity. And plays right into your post!
    Nicely done.

    • Thank you! That’s a cool idea-being bored, I mean.

  • Reading awesome posts like these! Seriously, I do a lot of deep breathing and prayer. I’m not outdoorsy, but if I can at least bring the dog in for a few minutes, that always helps too.

    • Thanks, Williesha! I find Gavin a dog is its own kind of de-stressor.

  • Julie Davis

    This post helps a lot. I have had writers block since my first e-book came out and landed with a thud, plus there are some family health issues. I try to feed my soul by reading. I also watch TV. And I keep a notebook with ideas for my next novel.

    • Hi Julie, just make sure that your writer’s block is not actually a symptom of any anxiety (you said your last book landed with a thud) – if it’s a fear of failure behind the block, the cure could be to write through it (what would you do if you knew you’d never ‘thud’ again?).

      Just an observation, and good luck on your next adventure!

      • Julie Davis

        Hey Shannon,
        Oh yeah, there’s a big fear of failure there. Some days I manage to write through it, even if I only produce one page. Some days I don’t and that’s okay too.
        Thanks

  • Great post! People don’t often highlight the fact that writer’s block can be a signal that we need to readjust the balance in our lives,