I originally posted this entry back at the beginning of last year. I thought it was worth posting again to get a conversation going about writers block. I know it’s a widely cited affliction and I’ve developed some tricks to get around it. Please read this and excuse the dated nature of some of it.
During the holiday season, I took two weeks off from my day job. It was a great period of time to stay home and become reacquainted with my family. I normally travel four days per week for about 45 weeks out of the year, so it’s nice to become part of the household for a while. Usually, I think my wife is secretly ready to send me back out on the road after an extended time at home.
One of the things that I was going to do during that period was set aside time every day to write. I looked forward to this break for months so that I could make great strides on my next book and other writing ventures that I have in the works.
Do you know how much writing I did during this time period? Very little. If I cranked out a new chapter on the 3rd installment of the Frank Rozzani series, that would be generous. Now, as a new year has started and I’m back on the road, I am on fire with writing, recording an audio book, and thinking of all of the things I want to accomplish this year.
So what happened when I had all of this free time and produced virtually nothing?
I refuse to call it writer’s block. It was more like writer’s blob. I was a blob during the holiday season, an eating, drinking, binge-watching, late-sleeping blob. I didn’t have a routine. I didn’t have to organize my day so that I could find time to write. I had time, lots of it, and most of it, in terms of writing, was wasted.
I have never really had writer’s block in the classic sense. I have yet to run out of ideas. I have quite the opposite problem where I have many ideas that all want me to act on them simultaneously. I wrote the 20 page short story, “Lucy’s Christmas Miracle” on a two and a half hour flight from Boston to Atlanta.
When I’m busy and traveling, I can’t wait to write. It is all I think about and, as soon as I meet my work obligations, it is the first thing I do. When I’m home, however, I have my family, friends, and activities that take front and center.
This makes me nervous on my quest to be a full-time writer. If I don’t have the travel and the work to help organize my time, am I going to waste time like I did during the holidays? I don’t think that I will for two reasons; 1) I would be bored very quickly and 2) I would need to earn some money which is a highly motivating factor.
With my personal quirks covered, I think there are times when writer’s block or creative block has hit me in my professional life. With this in mind, I’d like to share some of the tips that I’ve used to overcome that creative procrastination and paralysis.
1) Eliminate distractions – It’s really easy to get distracted if you don’t have the right writing mindset. This doesn’t mean that you have to lock yourself away in a soundproof room with a coffeemaker and sit down and force yourself to write until you finish a certain number of pages. I’ve written in crowded airports and on noisy flights. I think that having children gives me the ability to block out noise. What I do mean is that you need to make sure that you don’t set yourself up to fail. Don’t try to multitask. There is no such thing (more on this perhaps in a future post). Don’t say that you can watch Netflix while you write. Don’t eat your breakfast while you write. You need to fully commit to the world you are writing in and become immersed in it. When you do this, the words will flow and nothing around you will matter.
2) Pick a consistent time to write each day – When I travel, I’m generally in my client’s office until 6 PM. I then arrive at the hotel around 6:30. Next, I change and hit the workout room for about 30 minutes. I then shower, make some dinner and eat. This means that it is generally about 8 PM before I can sit down and write. Lately I’ve been spending an hour recording a chapter of my audio book and then spend two hours writing. On days that I travel, I use my current two and a half hour flight to write on the plane. With this schedule, in a given week, I can write about one or two chapters (about 3,000 – 5,000 words) per week. I’m not sure how that stacks up to full-time writers, but I do know that I wrote two novels and four short stories in the past eight months, which I think is a pretty good pace. Does my schedule get compromised occasionally? Of course it does. I have a demanding job with looming deadlines and pressures. I occasionally have to go out to dinner while I’m out of town. If I use the schedule that I described, however, as a guideline, then I have something to shoot for.
3) When you’re not writing, think about your writing – I would love to say that every moment that I am at work, I am 100% focused on work for ten hours per day. This would not be the truth. It also would not be healthy. There is plenty of time available for me to think about writing and where I am with my latest project. The shower is a great think tank. So are meetings when the particular part of the meeting doesn’t apply to the work you are doing. There is lunch, the commute time, and that time just before you go to sleep. If you think about your writing, it will be easier to focus on what needs to be written when the time comes.
4) Read, read, read – One of my earlier blogs pondered the issue of whether writers read and what should they read. I am one of those people that has to read in order to go to sleep. It’s usually fiction, but occasionally, I read non-fiction related to writing or some aspect of business for my day job. Reading is like studying for writing. You learn from other authors. You learn both good and bad habits from them. If you follow me on Goodreads or subscribe to my newsletter, you know that I generally critique 2-3 books every two weeks. This means I’m reading 4-6 books per month. When do I find time to do this? At the gate in the airport, on the bus to the rental car, before I go to sleep for about 30-45 minutes, and on my short connection from Atlanta to Jacksonville every week. Also, waiting for my doctor’s appointment or for a haircut is a great time to read a couple of chapters. I love to read and I have read voraciously since I was a 2nd grader. You learn things, escape into other worlds, and learn about the craft of writing. If you want to learn to paint, you study the techniques of the masters. If you want to be a musician, you do the same. Writing is no different. If you don’t learn from those that have mastered the craft and have become successful, you are cheating yourself from a great deal of knowledge.
I hope this blog generates some discussion. I am personally not sure if writer’s block is a true affliction or if it’s more of a time management or procrastination issue. As always, I’m sure your comments will let me know if you agree or disagree. I look forward to interacting with you and sharing ideas.