One Technique for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Gray_brick_block_220245_lAh, our old friend writer's block.  It can take so many shapes and sizes, just like fear, which it is, of course, based on.  And just as writer's block can take a gazillion different forms, so, too, can its cure.  Which is why you should try a variety of strategies if you are hit with writer's block, whether you're procrastinating writing the next scene in your novel or haven't been able to work on your memoir in years.  Here's one possible approach.

A friend told me this tip in regards to getting over procrastination and getting things done (clearing out clutter, anyone?) in non-writing arenas of life.  But it will work just as well for you (yes, you) with your writing block.

Here's the crux of it: micro action.

All you have to do is commit to one small (tiny, even) action each day.  Do that and call it good.  Really.  Consider it done.  You've accomplished your goal.

Here's a non-writing example.  I've got an upstairs that has somehow accumulated quite a bit of clutter that I'd like to clean up.  But I'm busy.  I've got a book launch coming up and I'm doing publicity for that while maintaining this blog and continuing to do client work and teach.  And plus, I hate clearing clutter.  I get confused and overwhelmed really fast.  Like five minutes fast.  So here's my micro action: deal with one piece of paper or item per day.  That's it.  That's all I have to do.  The other day I picked up a piece of paper and put it in the recycling bag.  And I had met my goal.

 I'm not sure what the experts say about why this works, but here's why I think it does: because it gets you used to doing whatever it is you're avoiding.  And then you realize it's not the big scary monster you think it is.  When you don't do something, it tends to loom large and take on proportions way bigger than reality.  The other thing that happens is that you trick yourself into it.  That one piece of paper uncovers another that I deal with in the moment and then another and another and before you know it, the shelf is cleaned off.

So let's apply this to writing.

If you're seriously blocked (and really, any block is a serious block because we writers are born to write and when we're not writing life is not good) set yourself a micro action goal of writing one sentence.  If you're seriously seriously blocked, maybe your goal will be one word.  That's your accomplishment.  Write your word or sentence and you are done for the day.  Or maybe you'll set the goal to write for one minute.  Or five minutes.   I'd be willing to bet serious money that eventually–way sooner than you think at this moment–that one sentence will turn into a paragraph, which will then turn into a scene. And you'll be writing again.  Because here's the deal: you've established yourself a habit.  And once something is habitual, it's not scary anymore.  (Unless you're smoking.  Or drinking too much.  Then it gets frightening.)

Here's a tip–don't become an overachiever, at least when you first start this process.  For instance, I'm using this process to re-commit to a regular walking routine after injuring my knee. If I so much as walk out the door I've accomplished my goal.  But for me, getting outside (step away from the computer…) is the hardest thing to do, so usually, once I'm walking, I'm quite happy.  I noticed last week on a walk that my knee was starting to get a bit tired.  And my reaction was to start coercing myself to do more.  Telling myself I hadn't gone far enough.  Berating myself for being lazy.  But then I remembered–I'd already accomplished my goal.  And I headed for home.   Because of this attitude and my micro goal,  I now look forward to walking.

So if you're struggling to make forward motion on a big project, try this micro action technique.  And then report back after your novel is on the best-seller list.

Have you ever tried something like this to get yourself going again?  What were the results?

 **By the way, speaking of book launches, wouldn't you like to celebrate mine with me?  Click here for the details.

Photo by Rotorhead.

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4 Responses to One Technique for Overcoming Writer’s Block

  1. Suzanne C. Robertson 02/04/2013 at 08:01 #

    I needed this today, Charlotte. Thank you. Yesterday I did everything BUT work on you-know-what. On the bright side, I actually cooked dinner and did some laundry … :-/

  2. Charlotte Dixon 02/04/2013 at 08:03 #

    Suzanne, I always say that you can tell when I'm not writing–because my house is clean.  I hope this little technique helps, because I really want to read your book when it's done!

  3. Sandy 02/04/2013 at 08:10 #

    Great post, Charlotte. I’m having the same problem with clutter around my house, so I feel your pain. Every time I look at it, it seems like an Everest-sized mountain to overcome.
    When it comes to writer’s block, I feel, for me, this is where ‘burst writing’ comes in handy. Breaking it down into small 10-15 minute chunks makes it seem less daunting, while maintaining that sense of progress.
    Interestingly, one area of ‘block’ I’m experiencing (and this may just be because of lack of experience) is I’m having problems really zooming in on my characters and getting their emotions and reactions fleshed out. It feels like I’m watching them from a distance. This is one reason I like each paragraph on a separate page. Focusing on each particular action and how the character should react / feel helps me quite a bit. I almost have to visualize myself being that character. I suspect as I gain experience and confidence, I won’t need to do this as much.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 02/04/2013 at 10:02 #

    Glad I'm not the only one with clutter issues, Sandy.  Our society creates a lot of paper and other items, as well.  It's one reason I'm fascinated with the hoarding shows.  As for the character emotions, sometimes it can be helpful to sit and pretend you are the character, experiencing what they are experiencing and go from there.  Your own experience can be good as well–ask yourself, what would you feel in that situation?  And then extrapolate from there. 

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