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Writers Block - Prevention

Avoid future writer's block with these three strategies. When you learn the writer's mindset, strengthen your inner voice and clarify your project goals, you address the main causes of block.

Writer's Block Prevention Strategy #1
LEARN THE WRITER'S MINDSET

Your brain's dual-mode thought processing system can actually set you up for writer's block. First, you'll learn how the thought process conflicts with the writing process. You'll then discover how synchronizing your mind will help you sidestep this problem.

Thought Process vs. Writing Process

Thoughts are processed in the right (subconscious) and left (conscious) sides of your brain. The two halves perform different functions:

  • The right brain uses expansive “big picture” perception to create a range of ideas. It works most effectively when you're relaxed. The right speaks to you through subtle intuition.
  • The left brain uses analysis to narrow a range of ideas down to specific answers. It functions best when you're alert. The left communicates forcefully as your critical inner voice.

The writing process consists of alternating idea creation (right brain) and idea refinement (left brain) cycles. As you write, you shift frequently between the two functions.

To progress smoothly, each side needs to perform its role and hand the task off when necessary. Unfortunately, because of our culture's left-brain bias, the conscious can be reluctant to give up control. When this happens, ideas from the right are often stifled before they have a chance to develop. This is a major cause of writer's block.

Left-Brain Bias

Today's world favors hard facts and the ability to narrow ideas down to the “correct” answer through analysis. This creates the belief that left-brain function is more important.

Also, little is known about the right brain. Thoughts appear “out of the blue” from a source that can't be defined. Because the subconscious isn't easily understood, it's often minimized.

In addition, most people feel a stronger connection to their left side because its inner voice is clear and forceful compared to the right's subtle intuition.

Our modern-day information overload forces the left brain to work overtime—evaluating data pouring in from multiple sources. This often conditions it to suppress creative ideas before they can take shape. Writer's block thrives in this environment.

Finally, when people face writer's block, they usually take on the belief that it can only be overcome with more hard work. This increased effort can cause the left brain to become even more active and critical. At this stage, additional effort becomes the problem, not the solution.

The Writer's Mindset

Because most people don't know that the writing process can produce conflict within the brain, they assume that their writer's block results from a lack of ability.

Successful authors understand the brain's duality and the different mind states needed for creating content and refining content.

Creating Content

When creating ideas, your subconscious needs to work in a relaxed state and the left brain's desire to intervene must be held in check. The following techniques will help:

  • Tap into the Writer's Source. Through the ages, many prolific writers understood that ideas and inspiration came to them from a region beyond consciousness. They recognized that “their” thoughts originated from this wellspring and simply flowed through them.
    People have been seeking a reliable and consistent link to this elusive source for centuries. Fortunately, science has unlocked the secret. Researchers have discovered that specific brainwave frequencies accompany different levels of brain function:
    Beta (13Hz to 30Hz) — Alert focus, engaged in activity
    Alpha (8Hz to 13Hz) — Relaxed but alert, daydreaming, ideas begin to flow
    Theta (4Hz to 8Hz) — Deep meditation, steady stream of ideas and creativity
    Delta (0.5Hz to 4Hz) — Sleep
    The most effective connection to the writer's source is made at the lower levels of Alpha through the upper levels of Theta. This range can be attained through the writer's block binaural beat and guided imagery CDs/MP3s.
  • Visualize the subject. Visualization helps you connect with the subconscious because it thinks in images. (Some people will even sketch their visualizations out, then put words to them like a screenwriter.)
  • Feed the senses. Learn what sights and sounds get your ideas flowing. View artwork. Listen to music. Writer's block is usually no match for sensory stimulation.
  • Take breaks. Work sessions should be followed by breaks where you can completely detach. This will give your subconscious time to process the project. The writer's block guided imagery CD/MP3 is a great break-time tool.
  • Capture ideas. Thoughts from the right come and go quickly, so it's best to write them down as soon as they surface. Inability to recall these ideas often fuels writer's block.

Think quantity not quality when generating ideas. Printing our free Topic Selection Worksheet (pdf) and Topic Investigation Worksheet (pdf) will help you produce and organize thoughts.

Refining Content

First drafts are usually weak. Experienced writers accept this as part of the process; unfortunately, many people misinterpret their rough early work as a lack of ability. This belief leaves them even more prone to writer's block.

When editing, you'll need to put your critical analyst back in charge. The right side's dreamy abstraction state is too unfocused for refining and it will be reluctant to cut material that it has worked hard to create. This reluctance can lead to writer's block.

When cutting material, it's normal to fear that you're giving up gains. Downloading our free Editing and Proofreading Checklist (pdf) can help you focus your effort.

For more detailed and precise refining, be sure to check out these editing guides.

The Synchronized Mind

As your project moves forward, you'll find yourself shifting between modes as material is created, replaced and re-worked. When the two halves of your brain are working together seamlessly, the project will progress smoothly and you'll be more likely to avoid writer's block.

The following techniques can help synchronize the mind:

  • Binaural Beat Recordings — This writer's block-busting CD/MP3 (can be listened to while writing) uses inaudible binaural beats hidden within background sounds to entrain brainwave frequency levels and synchronize the brain's two sides.
  • Walking — For centuries, great authors knew that walking would help them resolve writer's block or other creativity and refinement issues.
    Walking stimulates both sides of the brain and synchronizes them. This works because the left brain controls the right side of the body while the right brain controls the left side. The repetitive rhythm also calms the analytical left brain.
    Walking is beneficial for solving problems at any stage of your project. Using these steps can increase its effectiveness:
    1. Ask a question or state a problem you'd like to address during your walk.
    2. When walking, focus on the senses—the sights and sounds around you.
    3. Carry a notepad to record any insights that come up.
    4. Know that ideas can surface after the walk, often when you awaken the next day.
  • Bilateral exercise — Exercise that involves both sides of the body in repetitive rhythm can produce the same writer's block-neutralizing results as walking.

Writer's Block Prevention Strategy #2
STRENGTHEN YOUR INNER VOICE

People often suppress their inner voice to fit into social situations. Unfortunately, chronic self censorship can lead you to disconnect from your beliefs. And, because writing is based on your unique viewpoint, writer's block will surface more frequently when your values are unclear.

Expression Fears

The desire to fit in is powerful. Most self-censorship is based on the fear that if you speak openly, you'll say something awkward and alienate yourself from others.

Notice when you inhibit your expression. Examine the fears behind these restrictions to make sure your self-censoring is within a healthy range and not immobilizing. Defining these fears will help you move through any that may be holding you back.

Expression fears aren't always obvious. The most common are:

  • Criticism — Writing your words down will open you up to scrutiny.
  • Failure — You'll look foolish to those around you. This fear often leads to the #1 cause of writer's block: perfectionism.
  • Success — You'll stand out and be different from the crowd. You'll also have increased expectations to live up to—and greater heights from which you can fall.
  • Originality — You have nothing worthwhile to say because you can't come up with completely unique material.

Evaluating Criticism

Writer's block can result from the anticipation of scrutiny. If you're lucky enough to receive constructive criticism from someone who's accomplished, be thankful. Just remember that many people can be quick to give advice on things they haven't actually done themselves.

Truth = Voice = Originality

Writer's block often surfaces when people feel they have nothing unique to say. Just know that writing isn't about profound innovation; it's about what you see through your own personal truth. This is why a dozen people will interpret the same situation twelve different ways.

Your personal truth (how you view the world) is your voice. When you clarify and connect with this truth, you find your originality. And, you discover a great tool to beat writer's block!

Unfortunately, many individuals believe that spending time on self definition is too narcissistic. In reality, the opposite is true. When people define their truth, they become happier, more fulfilled and a greater benefit to those around them.

Defining your values can seem overwhelming. These 3 simple steps will give you a quick overview:

  1. Read joke and quote compilations. (Jokes and quotes are brief summaries of life's realities.)
  2. Write down the ones you can relate to.
  3. Define what makes them relevant to you.

Journaling

More complete self clarification can be done through journaling. Through the ages, people have used this tool to define their values, understand their motivations and expose the expression hang ups that fuel their writer's block.

Many forms of journaling involve asking questions, then writing down what comes to mind. These answers lead to more inquiries. As you answer the new questions, layers of uncertainty get peeled back. These “drill down” methods (brief example below) can be very effective.

Example:
Q: What do I want to accomplish in my life?
A: I want to start my own business but I keep holding myself back.
Q: How am I restricting myself?
A: I procrastinate and believe that there's something more important that I should be doing with my time.
Q: What do I gain by blowing myself off?
A: Procrastination helps me avoid my fear of failure. I also feel that self-focus is selfish.
Q: How can I overcome this?
A: Understand the reasons behind my inhibition—my fear of failure and my gravitation toward people pleasing. I must take time each day to work on my business. When I become fulfilled, the people in my life will be happier around me because I'll be less frustrated.

Another method of journaling is called off-hand inquiry. You write down your question with your dominant hand, then answer with your non-dominant or “off” hand. This helps you process the problem through both sides of your brain. (This is also a great way to beat writer's block.)

Because journaling teaches you to put words to feelings, it can be therapeutic. In fact, clarifying emotions through words is the healing process used by many mental health systems.

Through journaling, you'll also develop a knowledge of psychology. This understanding can be your key to the #1 secret of effective writing: emotional connection with your audience.

To help you simplify this powerful process, check out our journaling software.

Writer's Block Prevention Strategy #3
CLARIFY PROJECT GOALS

When your project goals are clear, writing can be as easy as filling in the blanks. Without a well-defined plan, confusion often results, no matter how much time and effort you put in. And nothing guarantees frustration and writer's block more than unfocused effort.

The best way to clarify your project goals is to define your audience, develop a connection plan and write a mission statement.

Define Your Audience

Unless you're writing exclusively for yourself, journaling for example, your goal will be to inform, persuade or entertain an audience. You'll need to understand the readers, listeners or viewers who'll experience your work.

Many writers start with little knowledge of their readers. On top of making their task more difficult, they're more likely to produce weak, aimless work that fails to connect with anyone. Defining your audience will help you avoid these pitfalls.

To begin, imagine yourself as a member of your audience and answer these questions:

  • What expectations of this project do I have?
  • What do I want to experience from it?
  • Is there a problem I want to solve by reading this?

These questions will give you a quick overview. For a more detailed inquiry, please print out our free Audience Definition Worksheet (pdf).

Defining your readers and their expectations will help you anticipate what they're looking for.

Develop a Connection Plan

You'll then need to connect with your audience on two levels: intellectual and emotional.

An intellectual connection is made when your readers understand your language, facts and organization. Use your findings from the previous step to see what content level and organization structure would be the best fit.

Establishing an emotional connection is equally important. To make this link, anticipate how your readers will feel before—and how they'll want to feel after—experiencing your message.

When you add emotion, you'll relate more effectively to your readers. You'll also be less prone to writer's block as your words will flow more freely.

Write a Mission Statement

Summarize your goals in a paragraph. Keeping this outline nearby while working will help you focus and avoid writer's block.

Some mission statement examples:

  • Marketing Executive… Potential customers want to see how my hair-coloring gel will save them time and effort. In addition to showing the product's simple use and quick results, I'll have them visualize how they'll feel before (anticipating a drawn-out, complicated process) and how they'll feel after (pleasant surprise at the easy, satisfying result) their hair-coloring problem is solved. When they can relate to this emotional transition, they'll buy the product.
  • Technical Writer… The readers of this camera's user manual want simple directions. They're non-technical and have no patience for complication. Because they've had so many bad experiences, they're expecting the instructions in this manual to be another nightmare. My goal is to give them easy and accurate direction that will lead to a positive experience with the product.
  • Student… With this history paper, my teacher wants to evaluate my knowledge of the events. He doesn't want to see excess prose “padding” the word count. In class, he has a preference for understanding the emotional motivations behind the events. My goal is to provide the facts succinctly—and because I'll stress the psychological factors underlying the history, he'll enjoy reading it—and grade me accordingly.
  • Fiction Writer… The goal of my thriller is to captivate readers, immerse them in my story's world and provide them with a suspenseful escape from their daily routine.

Writer's block resulting from a lack of project clarification is no match for these proven productivity tools. These aids can help you with fiction or non-fiction works of all sizes.

The three strategies outlined above should reduce or eliminate future episodes of writer's block. For more details on the tools referenced, check out our Writer's Block Products page. Please visit our blog to share your experiences and contact us with any questions. Suggestions are always welcome!

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