The Real Source of Writer’s Block (And an Exercise to Beat It)

The Real Source of Writer’s Block (And an Exercise to Beat It)

Do you remember how easy it was to tell a story when you were a kid?

All you had to do was pick up two mismatched socks (at least mine were anyway) and create a simple, silly narrative around Mr. and Mrs. Stripey-Sock.

And back in those days, you always had an audience sitting on the edge of their seats.

That’s right: good old mom and dad believed you were a best-selling novelist even at age five. In fact, my parents would still give me a standing ovation at 27 even if I used Mr. and Mrs. Stripey-Sock to this day, bless their hearts.

So, what changed? Your audience expanded beyond easy-to-please mom and dad. Your less forgiving, more intimidating audience feasted for a story far more satisfying than the romantic comedy ‘unfolding’ in the laundry room.

That pressure caused you to scrutinize every word you wrote. And eventually, writing stories became complicated.

Writers must experience growth, so ditching the simple “pair of socks” narrative is good for your craft. But should you completely abandon your childish impulses when it comes to storytelling? How can saving one specific childish impulse keep writer’s block at bay?

The true source of all writer’s block

If you’re anything like me (a writer with a tea IV), then you’ve experienced writer’s block before without understanding why.

The root of all writer’s block comes from doubt.

We doubt that our characters, our scene, our plot, etc. makes sense, and is likewise unique to the reader. Doubt keeps us from tackling the scene we’re struggling with, head on. The more we question our story, the more we abandon our true self.

When we solely focus on writing a story that will satisfy the mainstream audience, we lose our connection to our unique voice and childlike freedom in creativity. And that’s the aspect of our childhood we need to keep very much alive.

So how do we do it? How do we get back in touch with the fearless creative we once were and rediscover our unique writing voice?

Through this one simple trick.

Five minutes of freedom

Take out a piece of paper or open up a new word document.

Set a timer for five minutes (but keep it out of your field of vision).

For those five minutes, write every single thought that comes to your mind. Don’t edit a single word. Don’t allow your brain to automatically correct grammar, spelling, sentence structure or cohesiveness for a moment.

That’s right: for five minutes, be a kid, and dump your mind onto the page.

Write about anything from a grocery list, to a brand new novel. This five minutes is your hot yoga, baby, and you’ve got to get in touch with your most honest thoughts.

But, you’re probably wondering, “How the heck will this help me unlock my creative self?”

See, after five minutes have passed, you may read your work and realize it’s lunacy. You may scoff and toss this technique aside. Would you be right to do so?

Resuscitate your unique voice

When I first tried this trick, I admit I hated it. Yet over time, I became hooked. I discovered that fear of judgement buried my voice more than six feet under.

See, as writers, we’re taught to structure our voice. But it’s all too easy to let fear of failure bury your unique writing voice, unintentionally. Try this process for at least a month and you’ll discover the voice buried deep within.

Thanks to this technique, I reignited my passion for writing and rebuilt trust in my unique voice. I discovered that readers love honesty so I am happy to let my voice take the reins more often. Now, I can clearly sense when doubt and fear begins to cripple my creative flow. Creating unique fantasy worlds and interesting characters, is fun once again.

And when doubt starts to suffocate my voice again, I take out that timer, open up that word document and do a little nod to that toothy kid with a pair of mismatched socks on her hands.

What about you? Is there a technique you implement in your writing routine which keeps you connected to the page? Let me know in the comments section below, I’d love to try out your techniques!

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23 comments

  • Aust says:

    Rae, I find taking a break helps me keep the creative juices flowing. When I am tired of a storyline, an hour spent outside shoveling pig poop always helps me come back in ready to press forward.

  • Rae Elliott says:

    Agreed, stepping away from the computer is often the best way to clear one’s mind space. And if clearing literal muck on your farm helps you to clear mind-muck, then keep it up! Lol! 😀

  • Years ago, it was writer’s block that drove me to invent a similar exercise for myself, five-minute timed writing sessions with no prep and no revision. The difference is that I usually use short prompts to kick off the session. A title, a first sentence, a couple of word to include …

    I’ve always been amazed at how it opens up the creative channels. To this day, I sell collections of prompts to other writers, and recently started offering a free online mini-course based on this exercise. I really believe in it!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    epiclesisconsulting.com

    • Rae Elliott says:

      That’s wonderful, Trish! I love the idea of using short prompts to kick off a session too. This therapeutic method really helps unleash a creative flow. Sounds like a great mini-course you have going for it as well. Great ideas all around!

  • Wendipoprock says:

    Great post. I love writing prompts and find they definitely get the creative juices flowing. Networking and sharing ideas with other writers helps too. I follow NanoWriMo and NaNo Sprints on Twitter for fun, interesting prompts and am a member of a few writing groups as well. I find that writing in a crowded coffee house or outside at the park is a great way to get unique character ideas and it’s always funny to see people wondering why the heck you’re staring at them….because I’m trying to find a way to murder you in my next novel, silly! Cheers! 😀

    • Rae Elliott says:

      Wendy!! You absolutely cracked me up! I too love writing in public places and creeping people out with my scrutinizing glare, lol! The faces of the people and their conversations inspire my writing and help me to create natural scenes of dialogue. All those groups you follow are fantastic resources as well. I also love using writing prompts, they are always so fun!

  • Megan Sharma says:

    Honestly, this technique sounds absolutely terrible, but I’m sure it will be cathartic and I will definitely try it! PS–I am a writer with a decaf coffee IV 🙂

    • Elinor Cidras says:

      It’s funny you say that, because I too used to think the same a few months ago. A friend a mine and fellow writer told me to try this very exercise a while back, and honestly I did not like the idea at all. I was used to control, constant critique and brainstorming before tackling a new project. But those very things actually began hindering my progress. So after I gave this exercise a try a few times, it actually ended up helping when I wrote seriously! You may end up liking it too, don’t be fooled right away (like I had been) =)

    • Rae Elliott says:

      When I heard first about this technique, Megan, I was right there with you. I thought this idea was awful and I quit on it right away. But I assure you, give it a try. And try it more than once. You’ll find it really will be a therapeutic experience at the very least. I am hooked on it now and use it for almost all “foggy-brain” days!

  • Patience says:

    I have found that reading other people’s books helps a lot. I am useless when I am stressing so I just stop writing and start reading for a few days.. Reading someone else’s story always seems to inspire me to write mine..

    • Rae Elliott says:

      That’s a great idea too, Patience. There is an unspoken bridge between readers and writers that’s crossed in between the pages of a book! There’s nothing quite like reading the mind of another writer to help you map out your own. Thanks for your comment!

  • Denise Martin says:

    I call it brain freeze! I have blog I was working on that started off strong and before you know it…brain frozen! I’ll have to try this suggestion, it just might be what I need to finish that blog from so long ago! However, I do have a tried and true method for when I’m really stuck, I reach out to my daughter – works every time! Thanks Rae, excellent suggestion!

    • Rae Elliott says:

      Family support is always a reliable one, Denise! I love “brain freeze”- that’s a great way to put it. I hope this helps you complete past articles and encourage you to keep writing new ones. Thanks for your comment!

  • Jojo Paul says:

    I’ve been following your work and suggestions for years, and I have not been disappointed yet. Although writing is not my first love, your tips have made it fun, when I do! Thank you Miss Elliot, and please keep those ideas coming!

  • I usually find myself stuck where I didn’t plot well enough. I’ve heard many speakers say there is no such thing as block, only what you said or I said.

    • Rae Elliott says:

      I have heard that myself too, Susan! I suppose writer’s block is a state of mind, perhaps even an enigma. Perhaps when we just feel out of sync with our work, we’re quick to call it “writer’s block”. Whatever it truly may be, we all have days when our brains just aren’t connecting to our novels. I’d have to agree that great plotting is a necessary step toward success and beating the nasty disconnect that can happen between us and our novels. Thanks for your comment!

  • JOHN T SHEA says:

    Amen! Over-comparing and overdosing on writing advice, however good and well-intentioned, can feed my Inner Doubter. And I’ll have full-caff coffee in my IV, please.

    • Rae Elliott says:

      It’s nice to find another writer to commiserate with, John! On days when the Inner Doubter comes rearing his ugly head, take a few deep breaths and turn up the dosage on the full-caff coffee IV! ;D

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