Today I’m pleased to feature a guest article by Jerry B. Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series. Here is his advice on how to deal with that ancient scourge, Writer’s Block. Be sure to check out his website and follow him on Twitter!
It comes time to write, and you can’t produce a single word.
Maybe you’ve tried for weeks, months, or even years. But still nothing comes.
You’re suffering the dreaded Writer’s Block while your writing dream, your story, and the message you long to share with the world all collect dust in the attic of your mind.
If you don’t find a cure soon, you’re going to give up—and your story will never reach the masses like you hoped.
Good news! I’ve discovered how to crush Writer’s Block once and for all, and my more than 190 books, 21 of which have been New York Times bestsellers, prove it.
You don’t have to quit, and if you already have, you can change your mind and get back to writing.
So what’s my secret?
I treat Writer’s Block as the myth it is.
“Wait!” you’re saying. “Foul! If it’s a myth why am I suffering from it right now?”
Believe me, I know what you’re going through. I’m not saying I don’t have those days when I roll out of bed feeling I’d rather do anything but put words on the page.
But I know how to get unstuck.
During my career I’ve learned to turn on a faucet of creativity—even when, in fact especially when, I find myself staring at a blank page.
My approach stops Writer’s Block in its tracks, and it can do the same for you.
How can I call Writer’s Block a myth when you and countless others seem plagued by it?
Let’s think this through.
If Writer’s Block were real, why would it affect only writers? Imagine calling your boss and saying, “I can’t come in today. I have worker’s block.”
You’d be laughed off the phone! And you’d likely be told never to come in again.
No other profession accommodates block as an excuse to quit working, so we writers shouldn’t either.
If writing is just a hobby to you, a diversion, something you can take or leave, it shouldn’t surprise you that you find ways to avoid it when it’s hard.
What Is Writer’s Block? Something All Writers Need to Know…
What we call Writer’s Block is really a cover for something much deeper.
Identify that deeper issue and you can overcome Writer’s Block and finally start writing.
Overcoming Writer’s Block: Confronting the 4 Real Causes
Cause #1: Fear
Do you fear you’re not good enough?
That you don’t know enough?
Do you fear the competition? Editors? Writing itself?
You have big dreams and good intentions, but you can’t get past your fear?
Would you believe all of the above describes me too? Yes, even now, every time I begin a new book.
Let’s be honest: Writing a book is hard. The competition is vast and the odds are long.
That kind of fear can paralyze. Maybe it’s what has you stuck.
So how can I suffer from that same fear and yet publish all those titles?
Because I discovered something revolutionary: After failing so many times to overcome fear, it finally dawned on me—my fear is legitimate.
It’s justified. I ought to be afraid.
So now I embrace that fear! Rather than let it overwhelm and keep me from writing, I acknowledge the truth of what I’m afraid of and let that humble me.
Legitimate fear humbles me. That humility motivates me to work hard. And hard work leads to success.
That’s why fear doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Better to fear you’re not good enough than to believe you’re great.
Dean Koontz, who has sold more than 450 million books, says:
“The best writing is borne of humility. The great stuff comes to life in those agonizing and exhilarating moments when writers become acutely aware of the limitations of their skills, for it is then that they strain the hardest to make use of the imperfect tools with which they must work.”
I’ve never been motivated by great amounts of money (not that I have anything against it!), but that quote comes from a man worth $145 million, earned solely from his writing.
How humble would you be if writing had netted you $145 million? Yet, humility is the attitude Dean Koontz takes to the keyboard every day.
If you’re afraid, fear the “limitations of your skills.” Then, “strain the hardest to make use of those imperfect tools with which you must work.”
That’s how to turn fear into humility, humility into motivation, motivation into hard work, and hard work into success.
Fear can be a great motivator.
Cause #2: Procrastination
Everywhere I teach, budding writers admit Procrastination is killing their dream.
When I tell them they’re talking to the king of procrastinators, their looks alone call me a liar.
But it’s true.
Most writers are masters at finding ways to put off writing. I could regale you for half a day with the ridiculous rituals I perform before I can start writing.
But my track record says I must have overcome Procrastination the way I have overcome Writer’s Block, right?
In a way, yes. But I haven’t defeated Procrastination by eliminating it. Rather, I have embraced it, accommodated it.
After years of stressing over Procrastination and even losing sleep over it, I finally concluded it was inevitable.
Regardless my resolve and constant turning over new leaves, it plagued me.
I came to see Procrastination as an asset.
I find that when I do get back to my keyboard after procrastinating, my subconscious has been working on my project. I’m often surprised at what I’m then able to produce.
So if Procrastination is both inevitable and an asset, I must accept it and even schedule it.
That’s right. When I’m scoping out my writing calendar for a new book, I decide on the number of pages I must finish each writing day to make my deadline. Then I actually schedule Procrastination days.
By accommodating Procrastination, I can both indulge in it and make my deadlines.
By managing the number of pages I must finish per day.
If Procrastination steals one of my writing days, I have to adjust the number of pages for each day remaining.
So here’s the key: I never let my pages-per-day figure get out of hand.
It’s one thing to go from 5 or 6 pages a day to 7 or 8. But if I procrastinate to where now I have to finish 20 pages per day to make my deadline, that’s beyond my capacity.
Keep your deadline sacred and your number of pages per day workable, and you can manage Procrastination.
Cause #3: Perfectionism
Many writers struggle with Perfectionism, and while it can be a crippling time thief, it’s also a good trait during certain stages of the writing process.
Not wrestled into its proper place, however, Perfectionism can prove frustrating enough to make us want to quit altogether.
Yes, I’m a perfectionist too. I’m constantly tempted to revise my work until I’m happy with every word.
As I said, Perfectionism can be a good thing—at the right time.
While writing your first draft, take off your Perfectionist cap and turn off your internal editor.
Tell yourself you can return to that mode to your heart’s content while revising, but for now, just get your story or your thoughts down.
I know this is counterintuitive. When you spot an error, you want to fix it. Most of us do.
But start revising while writing and your production slows to a crawl.
You’ll find yourself retooling, editing, and rearranging the same phrases and passages until you’ve lost the momentum you need to get your ideas down.
Force yourself to keep these tasks separate and watch your daily production soar.
Cause #4: Distractions
It’s like clockwork.
Every time you sit down to write, something intrudes on your concentration.
Whether it’s a person, social media, or even a game on your phone, distractions lure you from writing.
How serious is your writing dream? If it remains your priority, It’s time to take a stand.
Establish these two ground rules to safeguard your work time:
- Set a strict writing schedule.
Tell anyone who needs to know that aside from an emergency, you’re not available. That should eliminate friends and loved ones assuming “you’re not doing anything right now, so…”
It’s crucial you learn to say No. During your writing hours, you’re working.
- Turn off all other media.
That means radio, TV, email, or social media.
When we feel stuck, our inclination is to break from the work and find something fun to occupy our minds.
That’s why Facebook, online shopping, and clickbait stories and pictures can keep us from writing.
When we should be bearing down and concentrating on solutions, we’re following links from the “10 Ugliest Actors of All Time” to “15 Sea Creatures So Ugly You Won’t Believe They Exist.”
Before you know it, your time has evaporated and you’ve accomplished nothing.
A Writer’s Block App I Recommend
To stay focused on writing, use a distraction-blocking app called Freedom. (This is an affiliate link, so I earn a small commission at no cost to you.)
Freedom allows you to schedule your writing time and blocks social media, browsing, and notifications on your devices till you’re done.
You set the parameters and can override it for emergencies, but it’s a powerful tool.
Writer’s Block Quotes from Bestselling Authors
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work.” — Stephen King
“My cure for writer’s block? The necessity of earning a living.” — James Ellroy
“Writer’s block is just another name for fear.” — Jacob Nordby
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Just pick up a pen and physically write.” — Natalie Goldberg
“If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.” — Anne Tyler
“If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. ‘Count on me,’ you are saying: ‘I will be there to write.’” — Norman Mailer in The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing
“The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain
You Can Defeat Writer’s Block
- Stand up to it the way you would a bully
- See it for the myth it is
- Turn your fear into humility and humility into hard work
That’s how to defeat Writer’s Block once and for all.
Have other questions about Writer’s Block? Ask me in the Comments.
This post was originally posted on JerryJenkins.com as How to Overcome Writer’s Block Once and for All.
Be sure to check out Jerry B. Jenkins’ book, Left Behind!
An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun…
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