Four writers sat around a table, commiserating.

“I write a lot about what I’m going to write. I have pages and pages of notes.”

“I have so many ideas… but I just can’t get started.”

“The story I end up writing is never as good as the one I imagined.”

“I get so antsy when I sit down—it’s impossible to concentrate.”

Believe it or not, these are all symptoms of writer’s block.

Before I began researching this affliction for a mini-workshop I was facilitating after the March meeting of the SF-Peninsula Branch of the CWC, I didn’t think I had ever suffered from writer’s block. My vision of a blocked writer was someone sweating in front of a blank page or screen, unable to write the first word. I never have that problem. But it turns out that, as with so many modern afflictions, the disease category is a lot bigger than we thought.

Please don’t stop reading if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, because the symptoms, causes, and potential cures apply to almost any creative endeavor.

Writers around a table

Deconstructing writer’s block

I started out by asking everybody to talk about how it feels to be blocked. We’ll call these the symptoms:

  • Nothing to put on the page
  • Antsy, unable to sit still
  • All my ideas stink
  • In a fog
  • Want to be anywhere but here
  • Write-X out-rewrite-X out-crumple-toss
  • Nothing is interesting
  • Too many notes!
  • Ideas don’t come
  • Can’t finish anything

Then we looked at the possible causes:

  • Inner editor won’t shut up (the part of you that’s supposed to be quiet while you’re being creative keeps criticizing you)
  • Quest for perfection (nothing will ever be as good as you want it to be, so why bother?)
  • Lack of confidence (how could you possibly have anything worthwhile to say?)
  • Fear of rejection (people won’t like what you’ve done)
  • Performance anxiety (you were successful before, so now you better step up)
  • Too much choice (there’s psychological research behind why an excess of choices leads to paralysis)
  • Fear of choosing (if you end the story one way, you’ve automatically eliminated an infinity of other possible endings… a great sense of loss!)
  • Distraction (your life is busy and full of other things that seem more important at any given moment)

As you can see, if any of these can be considered causes of writer’s block, then the problem is truly bigger than we might think. But I find this expanded definition helpful. It brings to your attention any of a number of factors that may keep you from writing (or designing, composing, painting, inventing) the way you want to.

So, what can we do about it?

I admit to stealing liberally to put together the list of potential cures; my sources are linked below. The small workshop group also gave me some great ideas. Here’s a laundry list:

  • Try timed writing (1, 5, 15 minutes)
  • Switch writing tools (pen to computer, different font)
  • Go elsewhere (kitchen, couch, café)
  • Stop! (sleep on it, exercise, wash the dishes, brush the dog)
  • Free write
  • Write in a different genre
  • Write every day
  • Write with a partner
  • Create a reward
  • Brainstorm
  • Take the first step, then take a break
  • Phone a friend (preferably a writer!)
  • Conduct a ritual burning (we had fun with this one)
  • Go to a “Shut Up and Write” Meetup
  • Listen to music
  • Change the POV/perspective of what you’re writing
  • Have a conversation with your inner critic (or chicken)
  • Lighten up!
Where I stole my ideas went for inspiration
So what’s this inner chicken thing?

In the last part of the workshop I encouraged writers to list things they plan to do the next time they feel blocked. One thing I plan to do is Have a conversation with my inner critic. But one of the writers had just mentioned going outside to pet her chickens when she was feeling stuck. So my suggestion came out, Have a conversation with my inner chicken. We decided that talking to your inner chicken might be a lot more fun than talking to your inner critic, and in line with the last suggestion to lighten up!

My inner chicken

My inner chicken

Get a Writer’s Block(busting) Worksheet

Want a PDF of my Writer’s Block(busting) Worksheet? Join my email list and I’ll send you one! You’ll get all these ideas, plus space for your own self-analysis and to jot reminders of what to do the next time you feel blocked. Get your copy now.

Another Dance of Souls giveaway

I’m sticking to my promise to give away a copy of Dance of Souls once a month until What Remains Unsaid is released. This may be the last one…. so don’t miss out.

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20 thoughts on “Talk to your inner chicken

  1. Great tips! I’ve become a firm believer in timed writing and changing locations. Makes it easier to focus, for sure! I especially love writing during my half-hour train commute. Wish I could spend it on my fiction, but it’s usually work writing. Still my favorite place to get sh*t done. 😉

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  2. I always thought of writer’s block as an inability to write. For me, I think of the rest of these as writer’s pause. For me, it then feels like something temporary that can be “unpaused.” My easiest fix is to focus on one thing and dive in. Once you’re in the writing water, it’s never as cold/bad as I thought it was.

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  3. Great article as always. “Antsy, unable to sit still”—That’s me right now. Or stand, as the case may be, since I have a pseudo standing desk. But whenever I work on my WIP lately, I squirm and am restless and just want to be done. I know what I need to get down, but it’s like pulling teeth to do it. I never thought of it as block. Interesting. Gives me something to chew on. While I’m restlessly working on my WIP…

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  4. Scary – I’ve felt all of those causes except for the one that has to do with success. I’ll have to find my inner chicken somehow. Usually the thing that helps is going for a walk in the woods or thinking about a story before falling asleep (but then that involves getting up and writing it down before forgetting and sometimes I’m too tired). Thank you for those suggestions – I’ll keep looking for that chicken!

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    • Good luck with your chicken search!

      I’ve always found the dream state or near-dream state to be particularly fruitful for creativity except for the great drawback you point out… you have to somehow capture the idea before it flees. That’s what has made early morning writing work so well for me, I think. It’s all easily accessible still, but I’m actually awake and sitting at a table with a notebook in front of me.

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  5. This was great! I look forward to getting your comments from the workshop. It fits me to a “t” so now I am ready to get unblocked! Thanks for this invaluable blog.

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