The obscure Greek philosopher Heraclitus never said “You can’t step in the same writing block twice,” but if he had, I would be in complete agreement with him. In my twenty years of assisting authors with writing productivity problems, the one reliable conclusion I’ve come to is that every writer’s situation is unique. There may be common themes that are shared by numerous blocked writers, but at the end of the day each set of difficulties, and the best ways to address these problems, will depend on the individual writer’s personality, project, motivation, writing habits, training, personal history, interpersonal environment, and access to resources.
I feel fortunate to be able to say that I also agree with a statement that Will Rogers never made, “I never met a writing block I didn’t like.” Despite the fact that these problems can be very challenging and resistant to change, they are fascinating windows into the work and lives of those who are called to the writing life. And when someone makes headway at resolving their blocks and the words flow once again, it is gratifying to witness and support that shift.
I’ll review some of the factors that impact writing productivity, as well as some of the strategies for addressing these problems. These issues are discussed more thoroughly in my book, The Blocked Writer’s Book of the Dead.
~Time management and scheduling difficulties. Blocked writers frequently experience challenges with creating and sticking to a routine of regular writing. It is essential to establish at least a modicum of control in this arena, or one’s writing time just slips away into the ether. Scheduling short, regular sessions of writing at a consistent time is one useful prescription for establishing routine.
~Bad writing habits – especially habits that interfere with writing but are being reinforced regularly. An example of this would be any situation that combines the avoidance of writing with some type of reward. Like choosing to blow off your writing time to watch TV and eat a bear claw. Procrastination behavior often has this feature, even if it is not immediately obvious. Habit change is possible if enough effort and attention is placed on the behaviors of concern, and plans are devised for removing rewards for unwanted behavior and establishing support for the desired increase in writing.
~Non-productive and negative patterns of thinking. It is often the case that blocked writers have developed recurring patterns of thinking that interfere with initiating or sustaining a regular writing practice. Patterns of depressive thoughts, low self-esteem, hyper self-criticism, perfectionism, and anxiety are often part of this mental landscape. By using approaches from cognitive therapy and mindfulness meditation, a writer can learn to be more observant of his or her inner life, and consciously shift one’s mental discourse to a more positive and encouraging direction.
Will Rogers was famous for his positivity and sense of humor, and he wrote six books and 4,000 syndicated columns. In contrast, Heraclitus was known to be a depressed and bitter guy who is known for his one book, On Nature, and evidently he left several parts of the work unfinished.
(to be continued)