I was asked lately by a ton of people what I do when I have writer’s block. I am writing a book currently. An endeavour that one must never undertake unless they are ready for excruciating pain. If I could choose between the agony of writing a book, and being fisted by a giant cactus one time only, I would choose the latter.
Writing can be an experience full of anxiety and distraction. Five things helped me to overcome writer’s block. Here they are.
The antidote to being not able to write is to write. My current job is to coach other people in behavioural psychology. The first thing I tell my coaches is that the routine is more important than the result. When you want to develop a workout routine, a bad workout is better than no workout at all.
Writing is no different. For me, my baseline is to write one page a day. No matter how crappy. Giving yourself permission to suck frees you from 90% of the pressure.
Taking one line at a time is some of the best advice I ever got. The Chinese wall was not built in a day. What you do is that you take one brick, and place it as perfectly as you can. This way, you do not get overwhelmed.
Also guys, sometimes the words we write for ourselves are so much better than what we write for others. Journaling has been one of the most profound therapeutic decisions of my life. It allows you to be 100% real. We live in a world where we are encouraged to lie to ourselves. To portray ourselves as flawless on Instagram. True muse is found in the little imperfections that we all have. Journaling is a pursuit of investigating our very soul. In these imperfections, stories can be found. Mistakes that people can resonate with.
For me, journaling is very personal and honest. But it still is writing, and if you want to get better at writing, you need to write guys.
I created this article today because I could not find the words I was looking for, for my book today. So I journaled instead. Journaling is a great way to deal with writer’s block, and a great tool to investigate your yourself.
Here is what I wrote last night in my journal when I had writer’s block. I thought writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all. Caution, these words are a bit gloomy, but I think they capture the struggle of not finding the right words in a brutally honest way.
Journal 12.8 (Writers Block)
It is 22.37 on a Saturday. All-day, no words came out. I listen to poems by Charles Bukowski. Maybe a bit too much lately.
Today I have not spoken to anybody.
In front of me, I see my naked typewriter. An empty page is staring at me. I drink coffee out of the pot and wine out of the bottle. I listen to classical music on repeat. I have not showered yet. I masturbated in the morning. I slept during the day. I need more wine. More coffee. There is too much of me.
I wrote my ex-girlfriend today. She did not respond. I understand.
Words don’t come out today. They are hiding. My fingers punch the keys anyway. I am tired of today. A day from now, a new week starts. I wonder for the how manieth time.
What would happen if we would be given a countdown? If everybody knew how many weeks, we have left. Would it make a difference? Maybe I would care more. Masturbate less. My fingers are black because of print. I like it.
More wine. My fingers warm up. My heart is not.
Today I feel caged. I want to break out. I am unsure of how. Maybe I am my own prison.
I breathe. My thoughts are uninteresting.
Less thinking. More writing. I miss having a fight. Or do I? Maybe I miss life. Maybe this is waiting. I hate waiting. I want to go. To the end of the world.
If I have to wait anyway, why not wait somewhere important.
Beyond waiting, lies death. I don’t fear it. I never have. My heartbeats. I hear the air leaving my nostrils. I wonder how many times I will hear this sound again. How many breaths I have left.
Maybe that matters. Probably not. Maybe nothing ever matters.
I am ok with that.
Today I see no light. I welcome the darkness.
My next adventure is overdue. Life is getting mad at me. It calls me a wimp. I don’t listen. My heart is pounding. My lungs fill themselves with smoke. I don’t have to do anything. I am here.
One day I won’t. I am worried. Not for my own sake. I don’t care about that. What happens to the love in my heart when I die one day. I don’t want my love to seize to exist.
I wonder how many people are crying right now—what insane amount of grief the world has seen. I am not worried anymore about nothingness. Maybe everything has to end. Maybe nothingness can be mercy.
Not for me. I will see it all till the bittersweet end. I will love it. I will cry. Then love some more.
And then I will punch the keys. Drink wine out of the bottle.
Years and years of wonder and confusion await me.
I light another cigar. My father loved cigars. So much, they killed him.
No words again.
My phone rings I do not pick it up. I am busy watching my candle. This is important.
I am reminiscent. About past adventures. How I saw burning suns and starry nights.
I wish to grasp the mystery more of what awaits me.
A year from now, these thoughts will no longer exist. Maybe you won’t either.
I will remember all the kisses I had. All the promises I made. I wonder who will lie in my arms then.
I hope I will lie under blue heaven, and watch someone deep in their eyes and say nothing.
I will think back of today where I was alone. Drinking wine out of the bottle, inhaling cigar smoke.
I will think back of today where I was young. Where I was waiting to live, waiting to die.
2) Write With Your Life, Not With Your Words
I believe that any writer should aspire to live a life that is worth telling. Personally, I get inspired by vagabonding. Wayfaring around the world and letting yourself be inspired by people and life.
I believe that many writers struggle, not because they are bad at writing, but because they have nothing to write about. If you have writer’s block, put your pen down and go out into the world—experience something real. Do not be boring. Do something out of the norm. Go to Tibet. Ride a camel—Tramp across Europe with no money. Read a book you never have before. Make a bad decision. Sleep with a stranger. Do nothing for a day.
I believe that to be a good writer; you need to experience all facets of life. Go deep and truly soak yourself into the craziness that surrounds us. Story’s will follow.
When I was in school, all I got was F City baby. What I was good at, however, was to live a life on the edge. Although painful sometimes, my life is everything but boring.
Try everything, often fail, and love deeply. If you want to be a writer, become the hero of your own story. If you cannot be inspired by life, do not then write. If, after long journeys across the world, words are not flowing out of you, then do not do it.
3) Passion Is The Fuel For Writing
I believe that writing should not be boring. It is about communicating emotions. Something real and authentic. To make people laugh, to make people cry, to make people break out to a degree to have understood your own passion. Capitalise on it.
But what if you have not found your passion yet?
When people asked me how to find out what their passion is, I normally point to four questions.
- What is the job you would be doing if you did not need a job?
- What is the one topic you cannot shut up about?
- When you were a child, what did you do when nobody was watching?
- If you can switch places with every human on earth, who would you choose?
Writing is a great tool to watch a movie of your life. When you see what is going on inside your brain on paper, you can take action. It puts you in the driving seat, and you can decide whether or not you like the protagonist of your own movie and make adjustments. Guide yourself away from the emptiness of life and create a custom-designed life that fits your most honest desires.
4) Use Classical Conditioning Against Writer’s Block
A basic principle from psychology is classical conditioning. Remember the crazy Russian Pavlov? He was training his dog to produce saliva every time he rang a bell because the dog thought he would then get food.
The bell is called a trigger. A sign for your brain to do something. The other thing is to use positive reinforcement. Reward your brain with positive emotion, to become addicted to writing. Your brain will repeat what you reward. So have fun while you write, love it even.
I believe that our brain has a conditioned memory. Flow is something that can be provoked. Flow can become a habit guys, if you do the same thing over and over, you can eventually trick your brain, and harvest flow as a resource and kick writer’s block in the nuts.
For me, it works to listen to the same song for hours and hours, and the next time I plug in my headphones and hear the same tune, my brain knows its writing time. Find out how to maximise your flow, and what is distracting you.
The same works with your place, the food you ate, the place you choose to write it. Find out what you like best. Some like quiet places. Others thrive in environments where it is really loud.
5) Reading Helps Against Writer’s Block
Humans have a unique ability to reexperience adventures from others. Maybe you are short on money and time right now, and you feel like you are not in full control over your life. But what you can control is what your brain consumes. Dreaming yourself away with the greatest pieces of literature ever written. It is your decision whether you watch the Kardashians, or if you let yourself be fascinated by the journeys of other greats like Victor Frankl.
This was one of the reasons why I founded my book club.
Why not learn from humanities greatest teachers and guide yourself towards the person you truly want to be. To become a better writer, you can steal. Study the writing styles of great writers. If you want to watch novels, study Bukowski, if you want to write a personal development book, study Tony Robbins, if you want to write science books, study Carol Dweck.
Do not be afraid to try new things. Do not be afraid to suck at the start. It is unavoidable.
As always, thank you for reading.