The Cure To A 3-Year Writer’s Block

I had a really interesting coaching call today with an entrepreneur who has been writing a book for three years, or, as he said “not writing a book for three years.”

We met about a year into his writing-not-writing process, and he got in touch to get some help figuring out why, two years later, the book is still not done.

In theory, it should be a cake walk for this guy. In reality, he looked and sounded completely defeated.

He has taught this material for years. He knows who his audience is and what he’s trying to do for them. He’s written half the content already… and hasn’t been able to write anything else for months.

Explaining his situation, he kept shifting around in his chair. He couldn’t get comfortable. He kept looking around him, like he couldn’t find something. There was something visceral wanting to get out of his body, and he was fighting it.

After nearly an hour of prodding, we found the source of his distress, and I sent him away to write about that, instead of trying to force anything else for the book just now.

All the stuff that blocks people writing what they want to write — even if it’s hardcore business stuff — is emotional.

The distractions, procrastination, false starts, I’m-just-gonna-check-Twitter-for-this-real-quick — all of it is your brain’s way of protecting you from something painful and scary.

Most of us have some shame or fear or anger lurking deep down below the surface, and the thought of having a published book or piece of writing — a very public display of our thoughts and values — can send all that nastiness splashing up to the surface.

When that happens, and the work stops flowing onto the page, the trick is to turn the work inward. Start asking:

  • What is the name of this sensation?
  • Which of the 5 core emotions does this sensation map to?
  • What are the thoughts that spring to mind about this?
  • Are those thoughts true?
  • What is this writing project leading me towards?
  • Is that destination where I actually want to go? Have I picked up someone else’s opinion or ambition and mistaken it for my own?
  • If it’s not where I want to go, where do I want to go instead? How would I do this project differently knowing that was the end goal?
  • What would it take to get from where I am now, to where I want to be?

Sometimes the blockage will come out all at once, without too much force having to be exerted. It might be as simple as experiencing anxiety because you don’t know the material well enough, and that a few days of research will sort you out.

Other times, it will take a long time and a lot of effort to get to the bottom of things. Maybe you’ve been working on something that unconsciously contradicts something you want or believe in, or toiling away for a reward you now realise you don’t care about.

Both processes are fine. But the only way out is through.

Figuring out what’s at the core of your slump is the only way to get writing again.

And yes, you can always walk away from a project if it’s not working, of course you can.

But the same problem will sneak up on you again some other time, and again after that, and again, until you stop what you’re doing and look the damn thing in its face, write it down so it’s cuffed to a page and can’t keep coming after you anymore.

If you’re stuck today, take a few minutes to answer those questions, and if you’re comfortable sharing, let me know what turns up.