Writer’s block. Just the word turns a writer’s blood to ice. We dread this malady, especially at times when we are under deadline or trying to meet a personal writing goal, like starting and finishing a work of nonfiction during Write Nonfiction in November. What’s a writer to do when writer’s block hits? I asked David Rasch, author of The Blocked Writer’s Book of the Dead and a psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with writers who struggle with writing productivity problems, to address that question. And I asked him to address it on day three of WNFIN so anyone who might suffer from “that thing we cannot mention by name” (a bit like “You Know Who” in the Harry Potter series), could have some ways to get past it and keep on writing until they do, indeed, meet the WNFIN challenge. Below, find Dr. Rasch’s 5 tips for overcoming writer’s block. I hope you never have to use them.
5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
By David Rasch
In this post I’ll give an overview of some of the factors that impact writing productivity, as well as some of the strategies for addressing these problems. These issues are discussed more thoroughly in my book, The Blocked Writer’s Book of the Dead.
- Time management and scheduling difficulties. Blocked writers frequently experience challenges with creating and sticking to a routine of regular writing. It is essential to establish at least a modicum of control in this arena, or one’s writing time just slips away into the ether. Scheduling short, regular sessions of writing at a consistent time is one useful prescription for establishing a routine.
- Bad writing habits. I’m referring to habits that interfere with writing but that recur regularly. Many of these have their origins in early family and school experiences. Blocked writers often unwittingly reinforce their own counterproductive writing habits. An example of this would be any situation that combines the avoidance of writing with some type of reward, such as choosing to blow off your writing time to watch TV and eat a bear claw. Procrastination behavior often has this feature. Habit change is possible if enough effort and attention is placed on the behaviors of concern and plans are devised for removing rewards for unwanted behavior and establishing support for the desired increase in writing.
- Unproductive patterns of thinking. It is often the case that blocked writers have developed recurring patterns of thinking that interfere with initiating or sustaining a regular writing practice. Patterns of depressive thoughts, low self-esteem, hyper self-criticism, perfectionism, and anxiety are often part of this mental landscape. By using ideas from cognitive therapy and mindfulness meditation, a writer can learn to be more observant of his or her inner life and consciously shift the mental discourse in a more positive and encouraging direction.
- Difficult memories, poor training and writing trauma. Through the impact of past experiences you may have incorporated unhelpful beliefs about yourself as a writer, or been conditioned to fear or avoid writing. These experiences often involve insensitivity, negative feedback, or ignorant educational practices. The ripples from these issues may operate unconsciously to interfere with your ability to write, and it may be hard to understand what is happening. The path for addressing these issues involves reviewing events in your personal history and understanding their impact on your writing life. Using a therapist or counselor may be useful in this endeavor.
- Lack of support and mentoring. Blocked writers are frequently too isolated in terms of their writing, and do not have mentors to guide them through the many challenges that the writing life entails. Sometimes finding the right group, class, coach or good writing buddy makes a big difference in motivation, skill development, confidence, awareness of options and resources, morale and daily word count.
The above topics will at least serve to give an overview of some of the chief issues to consider in terms of addressing writing blocks. As is true in many things, the devil is in the details, and choosing the right path out of a writing block depends on the particulars of that writer’s experience and situation. Sometimes change happens quickly, sometimes over months, and often a bit of trial and error is involved before finding an approach that works.
I have found that an approach involving patience, sufficient motivation, a willingness to exert effort, and self-acceptance is useful.
About the Author
David Rasch is a psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with writers who struggle with blocks, procrastination, and other writing productivity problems. He has worked as a therapist, workshop leader, writing consultant, Director at Stanford University’s Faculty Staff Help Center; and currently serves as the Stanford University Ombuds. Dr Rasch has given presentations about his work with authors at state and national conferences and has spoken to numerous writers groups. He also offers classes and workshops on writing productivity that are useful for writers of poetry, fiction, journalism, academic research, nonfiction, business and technical writing, Web writing, and personal writing. For more about his work or to contact Dr Rasch, see his blog at: http://davidraschphd.wordpress.com/