Writer’s block is that mysterious, pervasive disease of becoming (or trying to become) a writer. Some would say it’s a necessary part of the writing process. Some would say it’s a vice of the weak writer. Some would shrug and say, “Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.” But what is writer’s block?
What is writer’s block?
I’ve most often seen writer’s block from the perspective of a writing coach, working with writers who are working their way through the first draft. I’ve seen a lot of writers, all with different circumstances, experience some form of writer’s block, ranging from short and mild to long and severe.
The definition I’m about to present is purely my own observations, so take the parts that are helpful for you, and leave the rest. In fact, at the end of this article, I’m giving you a valuable resource that’ll outline some of the best ways to prevent or shift out of writer’s block, so be sure to read on to the end.
Writer’s block is an imbalance between input and output.
When you first commit to writing a book, you’ve probably done the equivalent of hundreds of hours of reading, listening to podcasts or talks or conferences, talking with people, and mulling over this topic. Think of every written paragraph, spoken sentence, and minute of thought as a bit of input.
Even if the book is a memoir, based on your own life, you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about certain memories or wisdom or experience that you’d like to pass on but haven’t started to write much of it out.
That is a heck of a lot of input.
And if you haven’t done any writing, there’s almost no output.
This is a classic imbalance of input to output, and the only way to start is to kickstart the output.
I recommend free writing (and you can get a full debrief on the magic of free writing here.) as the best way to create output quickly and shift out of writer’s block.
Does it matter how you create that initial output of writing?
But writers always want to know, “Is there a best way to start the writing or organize the writing or re-read the writing to analyze it for patterns?”
My perspective is that it doesn’t matter what the initial burst of writing is. In fact, I recommend about five days of free writing before you really start in on trying to organize your thoughts about the book. Honestly, even if you have journals, notes, free writing, whatever the output looks like for you, you can re-read it, if you want, but don’t get too hung up on analyzing or categorizing it.
Let the first days of writing simply be the initial flow of thoughts into words and trust that your thoughts are already beginning to organize themselves in a new way.
When you start to feel excited about the writing (rather than dreading it), then you are ready to organize your thoughts to begin structuring the book. (Head here for a guide on organizing your thoughts for writing your book.)
All’s well and good, until a few weeks or months in, and you hit writer’s block again. Now what?
I’d say that you’re experiencing the opposite imbalance, this time. Now, you have a few thousand or 10,000 or 20,000 words of a first draft, and you suddenly feel like you’ve hit a wall, like your motivation has dried up, like writer’s block has hit and hit hard.
You’ve made good progress, reward yourself! Even if you haven’t written as much as you would’ve liked, give yourself some grace and props. All progress is good progress.
But you have a lot of output, and maybe you’ve not been giving your mind as much input. So, just shift the balance again. Read a book, listen to a podcast, or talk to a colleague about your topic. Keep seeking high-quality, inspiring input.
But mindful of that input-output balance. I recommend continuing to at least free-write for a few minutes a day while consuming the content.
Quick recap: what is writer’s block and what’s the easiest way to prevent it or shift out of it?
Writer’s block typically happens in one of two circumstances:
1. You have too much input (content, books, podcasts, conversations, memories) but not enough output. The easiest way to shift out is to free-write for a few days.
2. You have too much output (you’re anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of words into the first draft), and you haven’t been inputting inspirational content. The easiest way to shift out is to consume inspirational books, podcasts, TED talks, or conversations.
Tips and Tricks to Prevent, Ditch, and Get Out of Writer’s Block.
Free writing is only one technique that I use with clients, and I’ve put together a free resource for you, with all my best tips. Grab your Tips and Tricks to Prevent, Ditch, and Get Out of Writer’s Block, right here: