We’ve all been there. Writing mental blocks can sneak up on any of us. Red-eyed and haggard, staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor feeling completely overwhelmed. For whatever reason, the tap of inspiration has suddenly run dry, and it seems like nothing you do can get it flowing again.
While it may feel like you’re the only person on the planet who can’t seem to string two words together, you’re not. Mental blocks are so common they’re practically part of the writing process. But if you’re not aware of how to recognize and tackle them, they can hold your manuscript hostage in novel purgatory—keeping your goal of publishing just out of reach.
Fortunately, with a little knowledge and know-how, you can take control of your mental blocks before they take control of you. Here’s how to identify and overcome the most common types of writer’s block.
Common Mental Blocks for Writers
Before we can learn to tackle these fears, we must first recognize when they are present. If you find yourself procrastinating or not making any progress on your novel, it’s time to do a little self-investigation. Getting to the root cause of your mental block not only makes it less intimidating but also helps you to develop a strategy for dealing with it.
We’ll let you in on a little secret. You might think that your mental block has something to do with your talent or drive, but really it all boils down to fear. Writing is an incredibly vulnerable process that leaves a lot of us feeling exposed. It’s only natural that our brains will try to protect us from this vulnerability.
Everyone is different, but here are a few of the most common fears writers face:
- Fear of failure: You’re scared that your story won’t be good enough or that you’ll never finish it.
- Fear of success: You’re afraid that if you do finish it, it’ll be a huge success, and you won’t be able to live up to the expectations.
- Fear of judgment: You worry that what you’ve written will be judged harshly by the public or your peers.
- Fear of perfectionism: You fear that you won’t be able to write something perfect, so why bother?
- Fear of the unknown: You feel overwhelmed by the enormity of your project and don’t know where to start.
Recognize yourself in any of these? Maybe even more than one? You’re not alone. These fears can invade any writer’s mind—but they by no means indicate that your story isn’t worth telling. All stories are.
How to Overcome Mental Blocks
Now that you’ve identified your mental blocks, it’s time to do something about them. Here are some tips for overcoming the fear and getting back to work.
Use a Timer
Fear thrives when you give yourself too much space to think. So eliminate any time for dwelling during your writing sessions by setting a timer. Set it for however long you can commit to a writing sprint without feeling overwhelmed—even if it’s only 10 minutes. Once the timer goes off, you can take a break. This gives your brain boundaries and keeps it from getting bogged down in fear-induced thoughts.
Writing and editing should never happen at the same time. By trying to do both, you’re giving your fear a foothold. Your first draft is never your final one, and you should be allowed to make all of the mistakes in your initial writing. Cleaning up and editing is a task for later.
Make it a rule that no editing is allowed until your first draft is finished. By allowing yourself to write freely, you’ll find your creativity will flow more easily—and your fear will take a backseat.
Nothing breeds procrastination quite like an undefined timeline. If you tell yourself you have all the time in the world to finish your book, guess what? You’ll take all the time in the world to complete it. Self-imposed deadlines give you something to work towards and a timeline to keep yourself on track.
If you’re having trouble sticking to it, tell someone close to you about your deadline and ask them to check in on your progress. That way, you’ll have someone to hold you accountable.
Keep a Ritual
It’s easy to get off track if you don’t have a writing routine. If your goal is to write every day, set aside the same time to write every day. You can even pair the ritual with a non-writing habit to set the mood, like lighting a candle or making a cup of hot tea. You don’t have to craft a masterpiece every time. As long as you show up and write something, it’s a win.
Whatever your writing schedule or ritual is, guard it like it’s your most prized possession. Put away your phone, turn off notifications, and block any other distracting websites that tend to pull you away from your work. Go somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Tell your friends and family not to bother you during your writing hours. Whatever you have to do to eliminate distractions and stay focused, do it.
We could all use little reminders from time to time that we are capable of overcoming our fears. Create some personal affirmations that remind you that you’re capable of honing your craft, and write them on a sticky note somewhere you can see them. It might feel silly at first, but it really does help.
Here are a few we like:
- My creativity is endless—I will never run out of ideas.
- I have the power to create something beautiful.
- My story is worth telling, and I am the one to tell it.
Change Your Scenery
Sometimes changing your environment can refresh your creativity. Take a break from working on your novel at home and head to the local coffee shop or library for some uninterrupted writing time. You can even take a day trip somewhere that’s reminiscent of the story you’re writing and let the new scenery rejuvenate your spirit.
Try Voice Memos
Words not coming out? Try stepping away from the computer screen and keyboard and dictating your thoughts into a voice memo. Speaking your ideas rather than writing them can be a lot less intimidating. You can then transcribe your verbal rifts and turn them into a story.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You
Don’t let fear keep you from telling your story. At PDHines, we offer customized book coaching for new authors and experienced writers alike. We’ll guide you through the entire writing process—from plotting to publishing—and hold you accountable every step of the way.