It happens to the best of us. You’ve got a brilliant idea for a book. You outline it clearly, and the words just flow. Your book was born whole in your mind, and all you need to do is capture a few of those fleeting shafts of brilliance to be assured of a #1 Best Seller. You can feel the “flow”, and your energy is pumping.
But once you’ve got the outline and you sit down to write it, you’re stuck. Nothing comes. You don’t have the slightest idea what to commit to your manuscript, and even if you do have an inkling, the ink just won’t flow. You’re stuck – that’s all there is to it. You’ve got a full blown case of writer’s block. So what can you do?
Well, frankly it depends on the source of your blockage. Are you swimming in a sea of ideas, afraid to pick one for offending the others? Are you looking for the perfect path to the book of your dreams, yet you fear the road not taken? Are you shunning what comes to mind because it’s just not Hemingwayesque enough?
There are five common causes of writer’s block, and there’s a cure for each one. In fact, the cures aren’t mutually exclusive. You can unclog your cranium with any number of strategies. The key is to pick one and get moving forward again.
The 5 Most Common Creativity Killers
As a writer, being stuck can make it seem impossible to get yourself moving again. If this sounds like you, you’re probably suffering from one or more of these five common causes. Take a look and see if any of these creativity killers ring-true for you.
- Procrastination: You had a great idea for a book, but you’ve been putting off getting it started. Now the task seems so huge, you feel like you can never tackle it. It’s become the monster under your bed, and your flashlight batteries just went out.
- Perfectionism: You know what you want to say, but you just can’t seem to get the tone right. Every time you start typing (or put ink to paper, if you’re the noble retro type), the garbage that comes out isn’t worthy the paper on which it is written.
- Intimidation: You’re deeply in love with your topic (or characters… or plot) and you don’t feel worthy to flesh the thing out. After all, who are you to breathe life into this project – God? You want to put a bag over your head and change your name to Anonymous.
- Distraction: You’d love to start writing your book, but it’s just so dang fun to gather material instead. Or do your laundry. Or pick lint out of your navel. You know that once you get started writing you won’t have time for anything else, so you’re squeezing it all in before you begin.
- Sheer Boredom: You loved your topic when you started – no, really. But now the New is off, and you’ve settled into a desperately dull sameness. It would have been enough for you to draft an outline. But why, oh why did you have to commit to 300,000 words of this drivel? By now you’d rather schedule yourself for a root canal than finish your manuscript, except you’re too bored to get off the couch.
Bring It Home with These Writers Block Busters
- Procrastination: If the idea of writing your book has turned monstrous, the best way to deal with this is to dive in….slowly. Commit to yourself that you’ll dip your toe in the water, or start in small increments. I recommend scheduling 15-minutes to work on your book, and then let yourself quit when the time’s up. If you want to keep going after that, go ahead! Schedule more than one session so you don’t feel that performance is do-or-die. You’ll be amazed by how easy it is to get started.
- Perfectionism: If you’re embarrassed by the garbage that comes out every time you try to tackle your manuscript, maybe it’s time to recognize a fundamental point about writing: it always starts out bad. For everyone. Even Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway rewrote his stuff 30 times before he even handed it off to an editor! Get over it and allow the process to be uncomfortable, and deal with that lousy, tragic first draft. It’s private stuff. Show others your work only once it’s been pressed down and shaken together.
- Intimidation: If you love your topic and you don’t feel worthy to flesh it out, consider this: It wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for you. No one else can put your own unique perspective on the work. Don’t let your fear define you. Use your butterflies as kinetic fuel for the fire of your passion. Take the bull by the horns and write what no one else can. It’s all yours, so own it. Personally, I went through this challenge when I wrote my first book. When I read the material months later, I was amazed at how smart I was “way back then.” LOL.
- Distraction: If you’re favorite pastime is doing everything but writing, you’re in good company. This is a cliché. If you’re trying to “squeeze it all in” before you begin writing – housework, poker, working out, filing your taxes – give it up. There will always be one more thing to do. Just start writing, you commitment-phoebe (and buy your spouse some flowers while you’re at it!). Nothing worthwhile ever came from a tepid heart. Stop making excuses and start making history.
- Sheer Boredom: If your love for your topic doesn’t look the same as when you started, there’s a very good reason. You haven’t let yourself dive in. Imagine you’re sitting around and talking with just one person. Give them the goods on your topic, and show them the pitfalls. You’ll be fascinated and swimming in verbiage in no time.
Now that you know some of the causes of writer’s block, you’re ready to meet the challenge head-on, get over yourself and your writing blues, and let the words flow. It won’t be long until your writing turns into the stuff of legends, and that paper napkin with your first ideas will be worth a fortune. Or at least it will be worth dabbing your eyes with, as you read the gold that flows from your fingers. Who knew?
Bryan Heathman is the CEO of Made for Success Publishing and the author of #1 Best Seller: Book Marketing Reinvented, a book for authors with his best-selling book launch formula. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.