Just start typing.
That’s what I often read when I search for ways to overcome writer’s block. Writer’s block. Such an interesting phrase, really. Could it be that there is really a double meaning to the use of “block”? Why not call it “writer’s constipation”? It’s really a better description, in my opinion.
Maybe it’s because I grew up playing football (and I’m coaching it now, too) but when I think of “blocking” I think of an outside force intentionally stopping you from achieving an objective. The reality, though, is that writer’s block is nothing more than us getting in our own way. Kind of like tripping on our own feet when we are trying to perform a physical movement that requires a bit of agility.
But maybe we don’t call it writer’s constipation because we don’t want to think about what constipation really (normally) references. That’s fair, I don’t really like to think about it either, so I can see that side of it, too. But let’s, for a moment, pretend it is called writer’s constipation. If we’re using the comparison to the physiological reference, then the solution is usually fiber.
What would qualify as “writer’s fiber”?
Honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea where to begin to determine what would qualify. I’ll give a shot, though. I’ll be right back, let’s see what Google has to say on the subject…
Okay, I’m back. Didn’t yield much. I did find this guy who feels similarly about the concept.
The real problem.
I had an enlightened moment as I started to write this, and as I was reading Stuart’s post about writer’s constipation. I realized that a large part of my issue is a lack of confidence in my own writing. I worry that what I have to say isn’t interesting to anyone, or worse, that people will read what I’ve written and think I’m silly, stupid, weird, etc. I’ve also discovered that many of the people that have written remarkable work all have one similar thing in common: they believe that one of the keys to being a good writer is actually to be a good reader.
So, I believe the best “writer’s fiber” is actually a formula:
6 parts practicing + 4 parts reading + 3 parts confidence + 1 part hint of arrogance
Let’s break that down.
6 Parts Practicing
Without practice, no one gets any better at anything, regardless of the activity. Even the best athletes practice, a lot. Jordan, Gretsky, Woods, Ali, Rice. All spoke about relentless practice. So the first part of my formula is to practice writing, a lot, daily preferably, multiple times per day if possible. Here’s the key, I think: even if what is produced is total crap, that’s the point, get the junk out, refine, and eventually you work toward the masterpiece.
4 Parts Reading
Emulation is one of the greatest training tools for the brain. We learn by example. If someone else has already done something, and we copy them, we find it to be drastically easier to complete a task than if we have no example to follow. Reading other great written works is a great way to train the brain on how words should flow on a page/screen. This is also why athletes watch film of past performances and performances of their upcoming competition.
3 Parts Confidence
I’ve discovered that many of the great writers and content producers I’ve come to admire have this in common: confidence. They know that they have the ability to produce great material, and they aren’t worried about what people think. Sure, deep down, they may still have elements of concern for their audience, but they aren’t fearful of being crushed by a lackluster performance. They accept the reality of (life really) things in that we will always experience ups and downs. Sometimes we’ll deliver with impact and pizazz. Others we’ll simply get through it. It’s accepted by even the greats that sometimes, we produce shit. Accepting it, and moving past it, is the key to building and maintaining confidence in the ability to produce gold.
1 Part Hint of Arrogance
Just to carry forward with the concept of having confidence. We have to realize that it is truly impossible to please everyone. This is especially true if we have passion. Passion is a one-sided focus on a given thought process. The “opposite” side is of little concern to the passionate, unless of course it is to passionately proclaim how wrong it is. The point, though, is that we have to produce, constantly, without letting anyone slow us down.
I suffered from this for a long time. I try to please people. This is partially because I have a tendency to “know I’m right” in a lot of situations, which has, in the past, given me a bit of a reputation for being an asshole. Just ask Lynne, she’s the one that brought it to my attention when we were first dating. I didn’t want to be considered an asshole, so I tried to compensate by trying to please everyone. This doesn’t work either.
So to deliver with impact, the content we produce must be something we believe in with passion. We have to be willing to burn the ships, knowing we will make it out on the other side.
The Quick Writer’s Block Fix
Under a deadline? This is my suggestion for this situation:
Ignore everything else, lock yourself in a closet or small room (seriously), close your eyes, and write anything. It doesn’t have to relate to your deadline piece. Actually, it’s probably better if it doesn’t. The idea is to get your brain to wake up, to get the connection from your brain to your fingers to work. Write a stupid short story about what you ate for breakfast, it doesn’t matter. Just write.
Eventually, you’ll naturally transition from writing about nothing, to writing about something powerful.