Writer’s Block? I Don’t Think So!

Writer’s block is often described as a person finding it impossible to think of what to write. I have also heard it described as not knowing how to move forward with writing.

Because I write daily, either professionally in my paid employment, for my own blog, or for my mental health, I do not believe in writer’s block. I do not think it is impossible to think of what to write, or how to move forward with writing.

I know some of you disagree with me. I can hear you now.

But Dee – writer’s block is real! I sit and nothing comes out. I have nothing to say.

Really? You have nothing to say? How did you come up with that argument if you truly have nothing to say? Everyone has thoughts and ideas, even you. The thoughts and ideas popping up in your brain may not be the thoughts and ideas you WANT to write about, but you could still write about them just the same. Are you mad about having to write? Write about that anger! Do you have a pleasant view outside your window? Describe it for your reader. Or do an Internet search related to your topic and find some new fact to spark your brain. Call your best friend and relive a shared memory to help inspire you to write.

Write something. Just write. Look online for daily writing challenges or daily prompts if you need to. Write with intention, with a purpose in mind. And keep writing each day if you want to build a habit or reach a goal like a blog/dissertation/book/insert whatever you want to write here.

OK Dee – I can write about my surroundings or follow a writing prompt. But do you know how busy I am? I don’t have time to write each day.

Forgive me if I make myself sound hoity-toity with what I am about to say. If can find time to write every day, ANYONE can find time. Let me explain before you click away.

Last year I did a time study because I was unhappy with my writing progress. I wanted to investigate how much time I spend each day on writing and how I might still incorporate hobbies I enjoy.

24 hours x 7 days = 168 hours in a week (keep this number in mind)

I manage 49 hours/week of my personal care (this number is temporarily up to 70 hours/week due to my recent injury). This includes time I spend in the shower, preparing and eating food, in the bathroom, etc. I work a minimum of 37.5 hours/week and spend a minimum of 5 hours/week commuting to and from my job. I am in bed for 8 hours/day or 56 hours/week. I will do the math for you: 142.5 hours of each week are accounted for.

This leaves me 25.5 hours of unobligated time – on a good week.  Just a bit more than one complete day. When work obligations require me to work on the weekend or into the evening, I have even less. Yet, I am still able to find time each day to write because I NEED to write. It makes me feel like a whole person. It makes me feel fulfilled. Writing helps me process the world around me, and my place in it.

Plus, I have made writing a daily discipline and I am determined to keep my habit because I don’t know how to fail. It’s a character fault, this stubbornness of mine, and deserves its own post.

I find it helpful to block out time each day for writing. During the week, I write on my lunch break from my paid employment. Other friends get up early and write in the morning before their family requires their attention. You will need to determine what time works best for you. Once you designate that as your writing time, honor that commitment. Block it out in your calendar or appointment book. Diligently protect your writing time so you can maintain your writing discipline.

Join a writing group or find an accountability partner if you need encouragement with your daily habit. I have written before about the wonderful community and support I found at the My 500 Words Facebook group. To learn more about the My 500 Words daily writing challenge and group, click here.

Dee – I’m pretty sure I can find time each day to write about the world around me. But I’m afraid to write because then I’ll have to write about my past/childhood/former relationship/illness/insert scary topic here.

I agree – writing has the potential to be scary. Maybe you don’t really have difficulty coming up with words. You know you can write, but you are worried about facing what I call the “tough stuff.”

The “tough stuff” is the topic in our writing which causes anxiety and dread. I have more than one topic I consider “tough stuff” – my disability and loss of physical independence; and the illness and death of my sister are just two examples. Writing the “tough stuff” requires vulnerability and honesty when I often want to keep it all private from the world.

It is not easy to write the “tough stuff,” but if you want to be authentic, you have to write it. I am more prepared and have the skills to face the “tough stuff” because I practice writing every day. You CAN write the “tough stuff” if you are disciplined and diligent. Here’s one way to do it: use a timer.

The talented and inspiring Marita Golden wrote about this topic in an essay shared on Marion Roach Smith’s blog (Marion’s blog is a fantastic resource for writers but more on that in another post). In her essay, The Power of Ten MinutesMs. Golden explains how she used a timer to help conquer her fear of writing about difficult topics – race, prejudice, the color complex – and find her authentic voice. The line I found particularly encouraging has stuck with me since I read the essay.

The timer was set for ten minutes because I knew no matter how virulent the terror, I could write for ten minutes. – Marita Golden

Can you endure writing the “tough stuff” for ten minutes? Set a timer for ten minutes and you will see just how quickly those ten minutes fly. And isn’t it easier to face the struggle of something difficult knowing there is an end point? You aren’t writing  your “tough stuff” for the entire morning/hour/lunch break/evening/insert your designated writing time here. It’s only for ten minutes.

I was so inspired by this idea of just ten minutes that I tried it last week. I moved my penguin kitchen timer from the oven to my computer desk, turned the dial to “10” and started typing. The DING! startled me and I realized I wasn’t ready to to stop. I was on a roll! I kept writing for another hour. Will I keep all those words? Probably not. But I finally tackled something which I had been avoiding because I gave myself permission to stop after ten minutes. I can face almost anything for ten minutes.

I was so inspired, I set the timer for 10 minutes when I had to start exercising with a more challenging exercise band. This technique works beyond writing!

Writer’s block isn’t real. It is an excuse used by undisciplined writers who are scared of writing the “tough stuff.” Daily dedication and diligence are required, whether or not you earn income from your writing. If you are writing with intention on a daily basis, even for just ten minutes, you CAN find the words and be successful.

 

What do you think? Do you believe in writer’s block? How do you beat it? Share your tips in the comments!

3 Reasons You Should Take a Writing Vacation

On September 7, 2014, I launched this blog and declared myself a writer. I made a vow to write at least 500 words every day, a commitment I kept until last week (with the exception of this one day last January).

A week ago, I decided it was time to take a break. I was on vacation, relaxing at my sister’s house, and for the first time in over a year writing felt like a chore. I had ideas in my head, but lacked the discipline and desire to sit at the keyboard and give them life.

So, I gave myself permission to take a break. For the next seven days I did not stick to my daily writing schedule. I watched movies. I crocheted. I sat in front of my sister’s fireplace and played with her dogs. I ate junk food. I sang showtunes while working on a jigsaw puzzle. I visited with family and friends.

I wrote a grand total of 783 words in seven days. And I don’t feel guilty for not writing more. Along the way, I remembered why I loved writing, and recommitted to my daily discipline.

There are good reasons to maintain daily habits, but a hiatus now and then can also be beneficial. Here are the three lessons I learned by taking a writing vacation.

1. People are more important than writing.

I already knew this from my 2015 adventure to Australia, but this week was a good reminder.  During my vacation I visited with family and friends, laughing and reminiscing. We shared stories and jokes, making new memories as we remembered past holidays. It was exactly what I needed, and I am especially grateful to my sister Caroline for letting me use her house as home base this week.

2. Exploring other creative outlets is fun and inspiring.

Writing helps me process life and my emotional reactions to daily events. But it is not the only activity I enjoy. I love to crochet. Having time this week to sit with yarn on my lap, a new project on my hook, allowed me to express a different part of my creativity. I had fun exploring color combinations and pattern designs. Working on a project in silence allowed my mind to wander. I thought of potential new blog posts, new writing opportunities and projects I hope to accomplish in 2016. Even though I wasn’t writing, I was still engaged in mental processes which will help my writing. And because I gave myself a break from writing, I did all of this without feeling guilty for pursuing one activity while ignoring another.

3. Taking a break refocuses your energy.

Sure, a daily habit is important if we want to accomplish a goal such as writing a book, composing a symphony or completing artistic work. Meeting deadlines and maintaining a routine, self-imposed or created by others, requires discipline and determination. But my stamina for this discipline was waning. Writing was becoming work, an obligation instead of a release.

When I gave myself permission to take a writing vacation, I found myself eager to write again. Writing was not a “must do” but a “want to do” activity. Rather than being a chore, writing was a creative outlet once more.

Now it is time for me to go back home, resume my daily routines, and enter the real world. I am excited to write each day, eager to work on the projects I have outlined. My writing vacation was just what I needed to be ready to write again.

Photo of an empty wheelchair parked on the bank of a river with a dingy hitch attached to the back of the chair.
Vacation was fun but now it’s time to get back to work.

If you are contemplating a daily writing routine, but need some encouragement, you might want to visit My 500 Words. This online writing community, started by Jeff Goins, is one of the reasons I have been able to maintain my habit. The members are generous, supportive and sincere. They will welcome you with open arms. 

 

Priorities Over Time

It’s really clear the most precious resource we all have is time. – Steve Jobs

Yesterday I had a day completely to myself, with no plans. I spent hours working on an essay I have been writing on and off for several weeks, trying to get it just right. I didn’t get it right yesterday. Sure, progress was made and words were written. Actually, more than two thousand words were written. I knew as I wrote them, most would be temporary and would not make it into the final version of the article. But, not wanting to lose out on a day of uninterrupted writing time I just kept writing, enjoying the hours at my computer lost in thought.

In the middle of the afternoon I took a break and visited Facebook. One of my online writer friends posted a comment about completing her writing work. I made a comment about not completing crochet because I have spent so much time trying to complete my writing. And then it dawned on me.

I miss crochet. I have sacrificed my time with yarn for time with words. I have made scant progress on the many partially completed crochet projects stuffed in bags throughout my apartment. I have not even started working with the sumptuous yarn I brought back from Tasmania.

Because I was unhappy with my writing progress, I started a time study to investigate how much time I spend each day on writing and how I might return to the hobby I love. The numbers shocked me. Although I know I have very little “me” time, I never realized how few hours are mine and mine alone.

24 hours x 7 days = 168 hours (keep this number in mind)

I manage 49 hours/week of my personal care. This includes time I spend in the shower, preparing and eating food, in the bathroom, etc. I work a minimum of 37.5 hours/week and spend a minimum of 5 hours/week commuting to and from my job. I am in bed for 8 hours/day or 56 hours/week. I will do the math for you: 142.5 hours of each week are accounted for.

This leaves me 25.5 hours of unobligated time – on a good week.  Just a bit more than one complete day. When work obligations require me to work on the weekend or into the evening, I have even less.

Sure, there are moments during my 49 hours of personal care when I can make time for me. I can, and do, check social media while my Personal Assistant is braiding my hair. I often take my turn in Words with Friends while I’m eating. I respond to emails while supervising my Personal Assistant as she prepares my meals. I complete personal writing during my lunch break at work.

I have been so proud of my discipline at maintaining my daily writing habit (today is day 316). Until yesterday, I had not realized how much I had sacrificed my other creative endeavors to make this possible. I have not balanced my love for words with my love for yarn. And as the facilitator of our writing group said yesterday, “Writing at the expense of your relationships and responsibilities is not sustainable.” (Thanks Christine!)

I have pursued my writing without making time to maintain my other creative passions. I have committed myself to one activity at the expense of a hobby I love. My rekindled relationship with writing has damaged my long-term commitment to crochet. And that is not sustainable.

Today, I am publicly announcing a change in my time management, because if I tell all of you, you will become defacto accountability partners. I know you will because you have helped me remain faithful to my writing since September. Thanks in advance for your help.

Starting today, I am committing to carving out at least fifteen minutes each day for crochet. I manage to carve out thirty minutes each day for writing, so I will find at least 15 minutes of each day for crochet. Why fifteen minutes? It takes about fifteen minutes for me to complete two rows of a blanket, which is enough progress to make me feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have to recommit to crochet for another reason. After I finish writing the memoir about me and my sisters, I have to write a second book. The inspiration for this project came from my fellow writers Tonia, Roslynn and Stella. They know of my passion for yarn, and each of them made comments yesterday which helped me recognize the void in my life once filled by crochet. Tonia even went so far as to create a faux cover for the book, and gave me permission to share it at will.

Ladies – thank you for providing the encouragement I needed to set a new goal. I know I will learn important lessons from this new discipline. I promise to dedicate my second book (which Tonia has titled “Hooked”) to all of you.

Image of a crocheted tea set, complete with tea kettle, tea cups and saucers on a doiily. All items are made with pink yarn. Above the image is white text in a black box which reads "Hooked: a Writer's Guide to Completed Crochet by Denise DiNoto"
Full disclosure – I did not crochet these pieces! Image created by T. Hurst.

What about you? Have you sacrificed one passion for the sake of another? How did you make time for both? Share your experiences in the comments below!