Overcoming barriers to writing – motivation, writer’s block

This is the age-old problem. You want to write but the days go past and you haven’t written a word. It’s a struggle to even sit at the computer or lift pen and paper, and when you do finally manage it the page stares back at you defying you to scratch a single word. You feel more and more down about it and that just adds to the problem; it certainly doesn’t help.

To those people who say “Well if you really wanted to write you’d just do it wouldn’t you” I say “It’s not that easy.” Most writers I know are great procrastinators. This article will help you turn procrastination into progress. I believe that consistency is key when it comes to writing so this article is about building a regular writing habit.

And it includes a downloadable form that will motivate you for every writing session. Read on for this and more.

I think we can break the problem down into 3 stages. You may struggle with one or two of these, or even all three. Don’t worry if you have all three – I did and I now write every day. This article will show you how.

1. You struggle to even sit down at the computer or lift pen and paper.

We’re all extremely busy and most of us are exhausted much of the time. Our free time is precious. You know you want to write but when the reality means getting up an hour early, or writing in the evening when you’re tired from work, it’s difficult to force ourselves to do it. I think a two-pronged approach is in order: Address the practicalities, then address the mentalities.

Practicalities

This is all about finding or making time to write, at the best time of day for you, in the best circumstances. How and where do you prefer to write? Is it at home in quiet undisturbed? Or is it in a busy coffee shop? What time of day do you write best in? First thing in the morning or late at night perhaps? Is it realistic that you can accomplish these arrangements on a regular basis? If not, what is realistic? For me, I write in the morning because that is when I have the most energy and I can think most clearly. 

For more advice on location and setup, see Where to write: Find or create your ideal writing arrangements

If it isn’t possible to construct your ideal writing conditions that’s completely normal. Most of us have to compromise on where/when/for how long we write. Do your best and remember you are not alone. If we all waited for ideal conditions very few of us would ever write at all.

Mentalities 

Now you’ve identified how/when/where you will write, I suggest you make it a regular appointment. For example, “Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I will write between 8 and 9 pm”. Put it in your diary. Tell your family and ask not to be disturbed. 

Even so, when the time comes it is easy to let it slip away. This may be due to getting distracted by social media or television, or feeling that there are other things you should be doing and doing those instead, feeling too tired to do it, or feeling overwhelmed.

Reasons to write

I understand all the above excuses. However, you need to remember why you want to write. Think about the reasons. Write them down. Your reasons might be:

  • I want to finish writing my novel as it is a story I really want to tell
  • or I want to prove to myself that I can do it.

I recommend writing down your reasons at the start of every writing session, at least three of them. In addition to your overarching writing goals you may have reasons for each specific session, for example today’s reasons might include:

  • I really want to finish this scene.

To prevent distraction eating away your writing time turn off social media. Don’t look at emails. Turn off wifi if necessary. Put your phone on silent or place it in another room.

If you feel overwhelmed at the blank page and the challenge of writing, that is completely normal. Thoughts such as “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t know what to say,” and “People will see how badly I write,” happen to us all. The feeling of sitting at the computer with these thoughts circulating in your head is very uncomfortable, uncomfortable enough to make many of us avoid sitting there at all.

Pomodoro method

To address the above, I suggest setting a timer. Tell yourself you only need to sit there for a certain length of time. I really like the Pomodoro method, which involves working in 25 minute blocks each separated by a 5 minute break. Tell yourself you only need do one Pomodoro; it doesn’t matter how many words you write – success is achieved if you sit there and try to write for 25 minutes.

Also, you don’t need to show your work to anyone. Only do this when you feel comfortable.

Writing rituals

Another tactic you can use to summon motivation to write is to use a writing ritual. This is an action or sequence of actions you perform before each writing session to get you into the mindframe to write. For some people it might be as simple as making a coffee and sitting at their desk. Or it could involve a 5 minute meditation, or reading over what they wrote in the last session. For me, a ritual that helped me get back into my writing routine was to write my three reasons on a form and set my Pomodoro timer.

2. Once you’re at the computer/holding pen and paper your mind goes blank and you struggle to even string a sentence together.

Essentially, what we’re talking about here is writer’s block. This is usually caused by the same fear I talked about above: the fear that we’re not good enough and that we’ll be exposed as a fraud, an imposter. This fear is often rooted in perfectionism, the feeling that everything we write must be perfect. If we feel unable to live up to our expectations then, in defense, the mind refuses to write at all. 

Give yourself permission to write badly. Don’t compare yourself to other writers – compare yourself to what you will have if you write nothing: Zero. Use the Pomodoro method described above – tell yourself you only have to sit at the computer for one Pomodoro, and anything you produce is a success. Don’t edit as you write. Just write and leave the editing for another session. Remember, you don’t have to show your work to anyone until you’re ready.

Gaining ideas

Sometimes, writer’s block is caused by not knowing what to write about – a lack of ideas or a lack of inspiration on how to take the story forward. This is easier because often you can think your way out of it. I recommend going for a walk, getting a change of scenery, or doing a task like the washing  up where your mind is free to think.

To get ideas, do some brainstorming – write the problem out and suggest solutions. If you are really stuck with your present project, perhaps you could work on something else while your ideas percolate.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to writer’s block. But there’s one thing that doesn’t work – don’t wait for ‘inspiration’. Write something, anything. It is possible to write your way out of writer’s block.

3. You feel depressed at not writing and this compounds your ‘failure’.

I’d say “Don’t let it get you down” but I know it’s not that easy. Take each day as a new opportunity and again, don’t compare yourself to other writers. Only compare yourself to the ‘you’ if you didn’t write. Even if you only manage 100 words today it is 100 more than you had yesterday. Just keep at it and I promise it gets easier.

And now – what you’ve all been waiting for! Here is a form you can use for your daily writing sessions. It’s based around the advice I’ve given above and is intended as a motivator and a record. To save paper you can record 4 days on one sheet! It includes

  • Date
  • Focus – here you can state what you want to achieve (e.g. write the beach scene) or a motivating statement like ‘Keep going! Whatever you like.
  • Time – Record the time finish and end, or the number of Pomodoros (intention or actual).
  • Reasons for writing – This is the most important bit. State three.
  • Word Count – Record beginning and end if in the middle of a work, and/or a total.
  • Notes – Any other notes e.g. how it went, how it felt, or pointers/reminders for the next session.
Breaking barriers to writing - Finding motivation and overcoming writer's block
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1 thought on “Overcoming barriers to writing – motivation, writer’s block

  1. Motivation is vital to overcome writer’s block. You can write by thinking of comments/retweets/subscribers/clients you will be getting once your content is read by someone. I am sure it will be enough to save you from procrastinating and make you start writing.

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