In addition to being a content writer, I am also a fiction writer. And when it comes to fiction writing, I actually don’t believe in writer’s block. Before you jump down my throat and tell me that block is ‘totes a thing’, a distinction that needs to be made between a situation that renders you incapable of writing (i.e. block), and a situation that renders you unwilling to write (i.e. stress, exhaustion, procrastination etc.).
Most of the time when people say they have writer’s block, they mean there’s something else going on, that’s keeping them from writing. Either that, or they just don’t want to write right now. The latter are using writer’s block as an excuse. It isn’t always a conscious excuse, it is often completely unconscious. They might genuinely believe they can’t write, for whatever reason, but the real reason, the crux of the issue, is that they just don’t want to right then.
But that’s fiction writing.
In business, when it comes to copyrighting, I have a quite different opinion. There are certain things that cause genuine writer’s block when you’re trying to write copy. And, by copy, I mean blog posts, website copy, social media posts; anything that requires you to write written content for your business. There are five main things that can give you genuine block, keep you from writing, and really hold you back in your business…
Whatever it is you need to write copy for (work or play related), there will always be times when you don’t want to do it. You’re always going to have to draw that distinction between the times you can’t write, and the times you don’t want to write.
If the situation is that you don’t want to write, and there’s something you’ve simply got to write, whether it’s a blog post you have to get out, a sales page you have to finish, or a magazine article you have to write, and you really don’t want to do it, the best advice I can give to you is to just eat the damn frog.
That expression comes from a brilliant book by Byron Tracy called Eat That Frog. The concept is basically this: when you have a long To Do list, with one or several things on it that you really, really don’t want to do, you always leave the stuff you’re dreading until last.
You always put it off for as long as you can.
The trouble is, the longer you leave it, the worse it gets. It goes from being a tiny, little frog that wouldn’t have tasted great, but you could’ve got down quite easily, to being this huge, monstrous toad that’s just kind of sliming around in the background, looming over your shoulder. It’s grown horrific and is even more unpleasant to deal with when you finally have no other choice. Knowing you have to tackle it preys on your mind and leaves you feeling icky, so you’re really just prolonging the inevitable, and making it even worse.
So, if there is something that you don’t want to write, and you have to get it done, there’s no choice but write it, you can’t outsource it, or delegate, you absolutely must write it yourself… eat the damn frog.
Get it over with as quickly as possible.
That being said, there will be other times when it’s not a case of you not wanting to write (although that may play a part in it), but rather that there is something genuinely preventing you from getting the words down.
You really can’t.
It doesn’t matter how much you try, it’s just not happening.
In my experience there are five things that cause genuine writer’s block, that actually prevents you from writing and means you cannot physically write…
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Writer’s Block Mindset #1 Overwhelm
When you’re completely overwhelmed, with so many things on your mind, so many things to do, and so much stress going on, your head just becomes too full. Your mind is buzzing, just going round in circles with all the tasks you have to get done, and the various other things you need to deal with in life.
Overwhelm makes it incredibly hard to focus on one thing.
It makes getting anything done ridiculously difficult.
When you’re suffering from overwhelm, writing a blog post can seem like the most impossible task in the world.
Even writing an email can seem impossible, because your head is too full of all the other things that you have to do. It feels like, no matter what you do, no matter how much you work, or how hard you try, you’re never ever going to get to the end everything, because there’s just too much. Everything becomes insurmountable.
The world is impossible to deal with it.
Now, the truth of the matter is, if you can focus on one thing at a time, and work your way through everything on your To Do List, you will get there eventually. But because are so many things on that list, or the things on it are so huge, it doesn’t feel like that. In the time it takes you to get one thing done (whether it takes an hour, an afternoon, a day, or a whole week) and crossing that one thing off your list, you realise that, while you were doing that one thing, five other things had to be added to the list.
That’s when overwhelm kicks in and you realise that you can’t physically get through the things you have to do fast enough, because there are more things constantly piling on, and your workload is just getting exponentially bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and there’s no way to get to the end of it.
And your brain kind of short circuits when it realises this, because it’s a bit of a paradox; it’s an impossible situation. You find yourself thinking, “I have to keep working, even though I’m unimaginably tired and really don’t have it in me to work anymore, and not only will it never end, it’s going to keep getting worse…”
Your brain just kind of short circuits when it realises this and basically says, “Fuck that, for a laugh. If I’m never going to get anywhere, I’m not doing it.”
Overwhelm gives you genuine block. It will stop you in your tracks. It will keep you from getting anything done, not just writing. And the only thing you can do is to find a way to deal with that overwhelm, to make it so that you no longer having an insurmountable amount of things to do. That you are no longer trying to deal with the impossible.
When your brain once again believes that it is capable of achieving what you’re trying to achieve, it will co-operate again.
There are many wonderful experts out there that can help you deal with overwhelm, so I’m not going to dwell too much on that. But, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you’re finding yourself incapable of writing as a result, don’t worry.
It’s not you, it’s not ‘in your head’, you’re not imagining it, and you’re not making excuses.
Overwhelm is a real thing that really happens, and it genuinely gives you writer’s block. Practice a little forgiveness: it’s not your fault, you just find a way to deal with the overwhelm.
Running a business is inherently overwhelming. It took me a long time to figure out the only way to effectively deal with my own overwhelm in the long term was to find reliable people to outsource all the stuff I didn’t have to do myself. I now have an assistant who handles my newsletters, a great SEO guy who deals with my website and AdWords campaigns, and an accountant all working for me on a regular basis. I also have a core group of trusted experts who handle other things (like proofreading, art work, editing and even writing and research) as and when I need extra help in those areas.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on outsourcing to get some key things off your desk. Not only does it free up your time to focus on your own Zone of Genius, it drastically reduces overwhelm because you no longer have to do everything yourself. If you’re looking for someone to outsource your writing to, I offer blog writing, content marketing, and sales copy service for entrepreneurs…
Writer’s Block Mindset #2 Lil’ Old Me” Syndrome
You know that feeling you get, you’re sat there writing, and you suddenly think, “Wait a minute, who cares what I think? Who am I to be giving an opinion on this subject? Who am I to be giving advice on this subject? I know nothing! Nobody wants to hear what I have to say. Nobody cares about my opinions; not little old me!”
Lil’ Old Me syndrome is very much a confidence thing. It’s also a perspective thing. From your perspective, no matter how good you are, no matter how big your audience is, no matter how many followers you have, no matter how much praise you get, no matter how successful you become, you will always feel the rest of the world is somehow better. There are other people who are better than you. Nobody cares what you think, because you’re one of ‘the little people’, and nobody gives a crap about the little people.
It’s a completely understandable thing to think.
But what you have to remember is, it doesn’t matter how many people are talking about a subject. It doesn’t matter how many people are producing a particular type of product, or providing a particular service. It doesn’t matter how many people are offering something that is similar to what you’re doing, or writing about similar topics.
You have a very unique gift: your own personal perspective.
The thing about people is, we are all so beautifully unique. We’ve all had different life experiences, different emotional experiences, different career experiences, different personal experiences. And every experience we have shapes the way we view the world. So, the way you see your niche is unlike the way anybody else is the world sees it. Even if they know exactly the same things that you know. Even if they went to the same university, and studied the same course, worked at the same organisation as you, and had the same work experience. They’ve written about the same topics. They’ve done all the same things.
They’re still not going to see things like you do, because you are unique.
You are you.
And it doesn’t matter how little you think of yourself, compared to everybody else, or how ‘small’ you think you are. Your uniqueness, your viewpoint, that is the thing that makes you worth listening to. It’s not how successful you are, how big your audience is, or how big you are that’s important. What’s important is your unique perspective. And that has nothing to do with size. In this instance, size really does not matter.
Writer’s Block Mindset #3 Impostor Syndrome
This is related to Lil’ Old Me syndrome. “Impostor” syndrome happens when you feel like you are faking it. You aren’t really what you’re claiming to be. You’re presenting yourself as an expert in writing, or publicity, or marketing, or social media, or anything you can think of (whatever your niche is). By speaking about it, writing about it, talking about it, offering an opinion on it, offering products and services relating to it, you’re presenting yourself as an expert in that field.
Whether or not you use the word “expert” or not is irrelevant.
You are presenting yourself as somebody who is ‘in the know’.
And it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the burden of your own expertise (or the perception that you are an expert). You end up thinking, “Wait a minute. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not an expert! I’m not really meant to be here. I don’t really have a clue what I’m doing!”
Impostor syndrome is a difficult confidence issue.
It’s tricky to get over.
And it doesn’t matter how long you do something for, or how successful you become. It can hit you at any time, this realisation that, actually, you don’t know enough.
There’s always going to be a wealth of knowledge out there that you do not posses. Even if you spent your whole life learning, you still wouldn’t know everything. And that is a peculiar quirk of the human condition: the more self-aware we are, the more aware we are of our own place in the world, and exactly how vast the universe is. Once you realise how small you, your knowledge and abilities are compared to the total sum of knowledge and abilities out there in the world, you feel like an impostor.
In comparison to the total pool of knowledge that is available on a particular subject, you are Jon Snow: you know nothing.
That level of self-awareness is good. It keeps you grounded, realistic, and encourages you to constantly learn and grow.
That is something everyone needs, especially in business: the drive to move forward.
But, it can also stop you dead in your tracks.
It can completely short-circuit everything, making you feel like it doesn’t matter how much you learn, you’re never going to know enough.
This is a really hard mindset to get out of, because once you get stuck there, nobody will be able to convince you you’re wrong. You believe you’re not an impostor. And impostors are subtle. They’re shifty. They’re not always obvious. The very word suggests subterfuge and trickery.
You don’t feel like you’re gate-crashing a party and everybody knows you’re on the guest list; you feel that you’re masquerading as a person who has every right to be there, and you’re the only person who knows it’s a lie.
People telling you you’re wrong, and you really do belong at the party, has absolutely no effect. In fact, it only confirms your worst fear: you’ve conned everyone into believing the lie.
It’s a really tricky mindset to get out of, because no external force can convince you that you’re wrong. It’s an internal struggle that you’re going to have to deal with. You need to find ways of proving to yourself that you are not an impostor, and you actually have every right to be at the party.
Writer’s Block Mindset #4 Perfectionism
I did a whole post on perfectionism, and how it stopped me from starting my vlog for nearly a year. But, basically, perfectionism causes block due to the fear that, no matter what you write, it’s never going to be good enough.
And you want it to be absolutely perfect.
So you start writing, and you realise what you’ve written isn’t as good as you want it to be.
And you stop.
You go back, and you try to rewrite it to make it perfect.
But, perfectionism is not an achievable goal. It’s not something that you can ever actually reach. It doesn’t matter how good you make it; it’s never going to be perfect. Especially not in your eyes.
What you end up doing is perpetually rewriting, rather than writing all the way to the end of something, and then editing it from start to finish.
Perfectionism doesn’t just give you writer’s block, it can give you block in all areas of business (and life). It’s a real problem in a lot of things, and it can happen to fiction writers too. You get to a point where you realise that what you’ve written is (from your perspective at least), crap. And, rather than finishing a draft of the blog post, or sales page, or whatever you’re writing, you get stuck.
It’s really important to just finish a draft, no matter how bad you think it’s going to be, so that you can take a step back, look at it objectively, see what needs improving, and slowly work through it until your reach a stage where you feel it’s as good as you want it to be (or at least, good enough).
This is something that really gets in the way of writing a lot: the concept that the first draft of anything should be good.
Because it really shouldn’t.
First drafts of anything are shit.
That is a virtually unbreakable law of writing: the first draft is never going to be any good. Because your first draft is not for finding the words you’re actually going to use in the end.
Your first draft is for telling yourself what you’re writing about.
In fiction, your first draft is all about telling yourself the story, so you know the story backwards and can then write it well.
Blogging is very similar.
You need to tell yourself what the blog post you are writing is about, before you can write it properly. In order to get to know it, you need to write a draft of it. You can’t write the first paragraph, panic because you don’t think that paragraph is any good. If you do, you’ll do one of two things: keep rewriting that one paragraph repeatedly, or abandon it completely. You might tell yourself you can’t concentrate, you have other things to do, that you’re too tired, or hungry, or hot, or any number of excuses, but the real reason is a voice, in the back of your head, or even buried deep, deep down in your subconscious, saying: “Well, that’s crap. The rest of it’s going to be crap.”
You forget you can rewrite things when you get to the end of them.
You think that, to get to the end of them, you must have the beginning perfect.
That’s the surest, fastest way to give yourself writer’s block.
Just write until the end, then go back and make it better.
Writer’s Block Mindset #5 The Tumbleweed Conundrum
The Tumbleweed Conundrum especially problematic when you’re blogging, vlogging, or doing any kind of content marketing.
You’re writing, but you don’t yet have an audience.
You’re posting blog posts and nobody’s really reading them.
You don’t have any traffic to speak of on your website yet.
You publish your blog post, get one or two, or maybe five or ten views, and you sit there thinking, “All that effort, all that time, all that blood, sweat, tears, crying, screaming, and so many crumpled up pieces of paper on the floor; what the hell was the point? Nobody’s even reading it.”
You’re suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that your writing efforts are pointless, nobody’s ever going to read what you’re writing, it’s never going to have any impact on your marketing, it’s not going to help your business. That feeling that nothing you’re doing is going to do any good, can really stop you.
Because writing is hard.
It’s really hard. It’s especially difficult to do it consistently, on a regular basis.
Writing is extremely difficult. And if you have an inherent belief (even a subconscious belief) that everything you’re doing, and all the effort, is just totally pointless, it’s extremely difficult to make yourself do it anyway.
But, the thing with The Tumbleweed Conundrum, is that you are never going to have an audience unless you have content. Nobody has a tonne of people visiting the site every day until there is regular, brilliant content on the site for them to read or watch.
You always start with the tumbleweed.
The only difference is that some people are in a position to advertise and grow their audience more quickly. The tumbleweed doesn’t stay around for very long.
But, some of us don’t have the option to do that.
We might not have the funding available for advertising. Or we might want to spend money on it even if we do. There are various reasons we might not be paying to draw people in. And when that’s the case we have to rely on word of mouth, and networking. Getting the word out there ourselves, and that takes time.
It doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s a very, very slow process.
The tumbleweed can stick around for a while, I’ll be honest with you.
When you start blogging or vlogging, you are going to spend the first few weeks talking to nobody. You may even spend the first few months talking to nobody.
You just have to keep going.
Blog, or vlog, or post on social media as if you already have the audience that you’re craving. As if you already have all those followers. And as if the number of people you want to be reading your words are already reading them. That is the only way you will ever reach that number. It’s the only way you will ever find your audience.
Content draws people in.
Quality content draws people in a lot faster. And quality content is essential for keeping people once they find you. You can churn out crap, and loads of people will eventually see it. But, they’ll never come back for more, because it’s crap.
So, it doesn’t matter how difficult it is to get past the whole tumbleweed issue. It doesn’t matter how much you might be thinking, “Ugh. Nobody’s going to read it anyway! I’m just going to write anything and put it out there.”
It doesn’t work like that. You have to put out high quality, consistent content, even when nobody is reading it.
What’s giving you writer’s block? Are you struggling to write something right now? Tell me what you’re working on and the problems you’re having with it – I’d love to help get you unstuck!