You’ve come to my office with complaints of a lack of focus, lost creativity, inability to write, and self-diagnosed yourself with the dreaded plague; writer’s block. But I am the doctor here, and I have a few follow-up questions to ask before I sign off on your Googled Web MD findings.
Describe your symptoms more in-depth. So you sit in front of a blank page and don’t put anything on it, you say. What thoughts are going through your head as you stare at that blank page?
‘What will people think of what I’ve written?’,
‘I’ve told the world I’m a writer and what if all I make is something for fish to be wrapped in?’,
‘Who do I think I am that someone—anyone would want to read what I’ve written?’.
That blank page sure speaks loudly and not too kindly either. That feeling of being a fraud, that not you’re good enough, that you’ve misrepresented yourself sounds like a case of imposter syndrome. Those feelings of being out of place and inadequate means that you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s a sign that you’re on the right track because you’re doing something you’ve never done before. It’s okay to feel the fear; you just have to feel it and do the work anyway. It feels scary because it’s unfamiliar, not because you’re incapable.
Let me see some of your writing. What do you mean you don’t have any?! If you don’t even have bad writing one would hardly call you a writer, especially one worthy of writer's block. You’re not blocked; you’re just scared of writing something bad.
The fear that your work isn’t good enough—isn’t perfect, has stopped you from even starting, which are indicators of perfectionism. This is a personality style broadly characterized by striving for flawlessness and perfection and is usually accompanied by critical self-evaluations and a high concern for how others evaluate you. A perfectionist isn’t perfect, but their strive for perfection stops anything from being good enough to present, display, or write in your case. It’s instances like this that the phrase “done is better than perfect” was coined for.
Schedule your writing
How often do these symptoms appear? Whenever you sit down to write. Okay, when is that? What do you mean ‘it varies’? Don’t you have dedicated hours to work?! How is inspiration supposed to know when to knock on your door when it doesn’t know when you’ll be in?
Schedule time in a specific place, free of distraction, to work on your writing. Even if nothing productive comes out at first, sitting in the same spot at a set time will trigger to your mind that it's time to work, to be creative. It’s why you’re told not to have a tv or your phone in your bedroom, so when you lie down in bed, your mind is cued to sleep, not to be entertained by your watch tv or social media scroll.
Do you hop off the couch and go right to writing? Thought so. You’re exercising with cold muscles and wondering why you’re getting cramps. Start with some warm-up drills before diving into your manuscript.
Do some free association drills like writing for ten minutes without stopping, editing, or reading what you wrote. Use a writing prompt and go on a tangent. It can be about anything as long as you don’t lift the pen from the paper or your fingers from the keyboard.
Write the story a scene at a time. Instead of getting yourself overwhelmed by writing a whole novel, do as Anne Lamott suggests and write in “one-inch frames.” Work on a specific scene involving your characters with no regard to how it will fit into your story, if at all.
Talk it out
Well, you’ve been answering my questions just fine, so you don’t have talkers block. So why don’t you do like Seth Godin and Mel Robbins say and talk it out? Put the pen down, grab a voice recorder and just talk. Outline your story. Perform a conversation between two of your characters. Describe the scenery where a scene takes place. Then either you or a co-writer/ghostwriter can go back and transcribe what you said.
If no ideas worth writing come to mind, bore yourself till your brain creates something entertaining. With so much stimulation from television, smartphones, food, and other concentration inhibitors, our brain doesn’t need to stimulate itself.
Cleanse your mind of the pleasure hormone dopamine by avoiding arousal or pleasure triggers. This means turning off the television, putting down the book, disconnecting the phone, and sitting in boredom till an idea comes to inspire your pleasure-starved mind.
Take a Break
It sounds like you’ve been suffering from these symptoms for a while; it might be time to take a break from staring at that blinking line on your word document. Instead, go for a walk, keep those plans with friends, take a vacation, get out of the monotony of your life, and live more of it and see if that doesn't inspire you.
You’ll need to deal with that imposture syndrome and perfectionism telling you you’re not good enough before we worry about your so-called writer's block. The fact that you’re feeling imposter syndrome means you’re on the right track, that you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Keep leaning into that feeling and pushing against the walls of the box you’ve put yourself in. As for your perfectionism, done is going to have to be as perfect as you can get. Your first draft and even your third won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better than the last, but you need a first to improve upon.
I’m prescribing scheduled time in a designated place to work, followed by a warm-up with free association writing exercises before starting on the manuscript. Do that three to five times a week with interchangeable monthly doses of dopamine detoxing followed by a relaxing break. Call me for a follow-up visit by the end of the month and take this script to the front desk.