Writing roadblocks: Fear & Funk

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In my experience, there are two roadblocks that cause a stall out when one is writing a memoir: fear and feeling stuck (or both!).

Fear:

What if I can’t do this? 

You know what? Nobody can actually write memoirs worthy of publishing right away. It takes time, work, passion, and the desire to grow in the craft. But the only way you truly can’t do it is if you don’t do it.

I don’t have a clue where to start. 

Again, few of us do. But the point is to get words down on paper (or laptop). Start at the beginning of your story. The starting place will probably change, but write something. Write a scene. An essay. Some musing. Summary. Thoughts, even if the thoughts are I don’t have a clue where to start. Once you write, you’ve started.

I’m too busy to add this to my life​. 

This is 100% true for some. It’s OK. Life will change at some point and you may be able to weave writing into your life. But a lot of times, this comment has to do with fear. If you really want to write, find time. Fifteen minutes in the morning. A half hour at night in exchange for a reality TV show (I’m obsessed with them!). Jotting down thoughts and ideas on a note pad as you wait for your kid’s soccer practice to let out. You don’t have to set aside chunks of time, but write. Find a little time. Write!

Funk:

Some authors think that writer’s block is a myth. I disagree. I think it is a real thing, but I also think that we can do a few things to attempt to loosen up our tangled creativity.

Put in the time anyway.

Set aside time for your writing. Remember Anne Lamott’s ‘butt in the chair’ admonishment from Bird by Bird? You may not actually write. You may stare off into space without one thought about your project. Just don’t give up. In order to build your writing muscles, you have to write.

Don’t let discouragement stop you cold.

​Or it will. You’re going to think your work is terrible. You’ll decide that your four-year-old can write better than you. You’ll want to give up. You might fear that someone will hear about you writing and think you are a fraud. Don’t let these things stop you. One writer said that as soon as you write, even if it is a grocery list (for the purpose of writing, not strictly to shop), you are a writer. Use your discouragement as a challenge to get better. 

Look for inspiration. 

​Read a memoir or a novel. Pick up a book on craft and read a chapter before you sit down to work. Purchase a writing course. Listen to podcasts about writing (my favorite is Between the Covers. Catchy title, right?). Look for a writing group in your town or online. Read blogs (ahem). Talk to others who write or love all things literary. ​ 

These ideas usually help me get out of my fear and funk. See what they do for you. You might just pick up your pen. 

 

What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

Writing blocks rarely hit me because I don’t know what to say. For me, they are usually derived from a mind swarming with ideas. So much so, that I can feel overwhelmed with questions like these:

  • Should I focus on idea A or B today?
  • Just because I’m interested in a topic doesn’t mean anyone else is, right?
  • Is my thinking on this matter completely delusional?
  • I can’t write about __________; people will think __________ about me. Won’t they?

Ah, the battles of insecurity a writer must fight. So how do we wage war against our own fears, those with the power to debilitate us if we aren’t careful?Writing Rules

For me, I’ve had to gulp, choosing to write afraid.

I love what Stephen King said on the matter. “The only requirement to be a writer is to remember every scar.”

The secret to great writing is daring to risk in order to reap greater rewards. 

  • When you aren’t sure whether idea A or B is better, choose one and decide to embrace your own decision.
  • Odds are, if you are interested in a topic, so are other people. If you doubt it, do a quick friend/family and social media poll to test the waters.
  • What sometimes feels delusional to us can feel like “outside the box” thinking to others. Research to see if you can substantiate your premise. Try to imagine how this might come across to someone foreign to the concept. Tell your readers you understand this may sound strange or that they might agree to disagree with you. And don’t forget to ask God what He wants you to say — He is the king of fresh ideas.
  • As Stephen King’s quote reminds us, the inner scars, the deep thoughts, and the vulnerable spaces in our lives are often the ones other people connect with the most. If we hold our tender areas captive, we can’t free someone else who needs permission to release their own fears.

I think most writers struggle with what to write when you don’t know what to write. But you can’t go wrong when your words originate from your soul. Don’t doubt yourself to the point of mental paralysis. Your unique take is as important as your unique voice in expressing your thoughts.

Dare to believe in what you have to say.
Dare to share your innermost thoughts. Dare to trust God with a message he wants you to offer.

What Are You Doing for OthersSo what if every person on the planet doesn’t share your perspective? Some of the greatest minds in history were scoffed at in the beginning. Do your due diligence, then dare to risk so you and your readers reap a greater reward.

What topics could you write afraid? What are you holding back that could help others?

Writer’s Block? Consider a Template

You sit down to write your blog post or speech, and your mind goes blank.

What do you do? Panic? Make a fresh cup of coffee? Take a walk outside? Or tie yourself to your desk chair, vowing not to get up until it’s finished?

We’ve all had these moments of frustration when the words refuse to come. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then start on the first one.”

One way to do that is to use a template. Michael Hyatt suggests, “I create a template for any task I find myself doing repeatedly. So instead of reinventing the wheel every time, I do it once, save it as a template, and then reuse it.”

If you’ve every written a book proposal, you understand the value of a template. And you compose it in chunks, right? In fact, just typing the cover page is a helpful way to start; then, you go on to the next page.

I use templates as I compose teaching or speaking notes, as well as for some of my hard-to-write blog posts.

I start with an overall look at the topic.

  • Audience. I start by examining who I’m writing for, or who will be attending the event.
  • Felt need or problem. I examine not only what problem I’m addressing, but also what I want the audience to know and to do.
  • Main thought. For me, it’s often hard to reduce my message into one or two words. So, I attempt to summarize my message in one sentence to get my focus.
  • Scripture or reference. Since I write on nonfiction, Christian topics, I write out the main scripture or promise I want to share, or the authoritative source.

The next part of my template includes spaces for each section planned.

  • Opening statement or story. Here’s where I try to capture the attention of my audience with a quotation or an intriguing story.
  • My story. I connect with the topic, using an illustration from my own experiences.
  • Our story. I consider borrowing from other people or source that expresses how many reader will relate to the subject.
  • Resource. What does my primary resource say about this topic? This could be Bible reference or another authoritative source.
  • Your story. Now, I try to lead the reader to connect the topic with one of her own life stories.
  • Application. I encourage the audience to adopt some practical way to apply the message that might change their life.
  • Conclusion. What is the take-away? Write something the audience can remember—a clever quote, a power statement, or repeat what you just said in the post in a memorable way. I propose a premise, then reinforce it with strong, concluding words.

How do you handle those times when the words won’t come for your project?

I hope you will consider developing a template for those tasks you find yourself doing routinely, like blog posts or speaking notes.

And if all else fails, just take a walk or do anything to get your mind off your writing, and allow yourself to refocus on something pleasant or beautiful.

Then, go back to your desk, sit down, and just write!

Have templates helped you in your writing? If so, share a few examples with us.

 

5 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Writer's Block

If you have been sitting in front of a computer staring at the empty white screen, you are not alone. We all have felt stuck before. Here are 5 things that I have done that have helped me get the creativity flowing.

1. Get Away to Write

When I am beginning a new project, I like to get away for a week to begin the writing process. I have an 80-year-old mother who has helped provide a place for me to “hide-out.” She goes to Clear Water, Florida every fall for a couple of months. I have taken a week to go and write. I take my computer bag and sit looking at the ocean and let my fingers fly. I don’t worry about perfection, I just write and devote myself to the process.

2. Set A Schedule to Write

If you are going to complete a writing project, a schedule can help you stay the course. I set a goal of how many words I am going to write a day before I stop. Often, I am going to write 1500 words. At first it can be slow, but as I allow my mind to wrap around the page it helps. I like to write in the mornings while my mind is fresh (but others like to write in the evenings when the kids go to bed). You know what time works for you, so put it on your calendar. When I was writing my first book, I made a commitment not to take any appointments before noon. There were people who were frustrated with me and didn’t see what the big deal was. For me, I needed to prioritize writing or it wouldn’t get done.

3. Take the Pressure Off

One of the most difficult times of writer’s block that I experienced was with my newly released book, Women Who Move Mountains, Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace. I had already signed the contract with Baker Publishing Group and had negotiated a date that I thought would work on the calendar. However, as we got closer, the date to launch our new church was changed and it conflicted with my writing deadline. I simply had too much on my plate and I couldn’t do it all. When we renegotiated the due date, it took the pressure off.

4. Just Do It

I was dealing with a great deal of spiritual warfare in the form of negative thoughts: You are in over your head. You can’t write this. You don’t know what you aClick here to Download the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains.re doing. Who are you kidding? Have you ever had some version of negative thoughts? I tried praying (after all the book is about prayer). However, I didn’t have a breakthrough in terms of peace, until I forced myself to just do it. In prayer, God gave me a picture of an acorn that I was holding in my hand, but if I would plant that acorn in good soil, and provide nurture, it would grow to be a strong a mighty tree whose leaves would provide healing for all who read it. After writing these words down in a journal, I took my computer and I sat in my 80-year-old mother’s room and I began to type. (If you read chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains, you will learn that my mom has been my main role model for prayer.) (Click the Picture of the book to immediately download the Introduction and Chapter 1).

5. Pray, Believe, Write

Little by little, you will accomplish what God has called you to do. Begin each writing session with this rhythm: pray, believe, write. When you know that God hears your prayers, you can set aside the worries of the day, believe God, and write. Take frequent breaks, look up at the sky, smile, and believe that the ONE who has called you to write will inspire you to do it. As you follow his guidance, little by little, the written words will bring life and hope to those who read it.

I Prepared A Gift for You

Yes, a gift. Maybe you are like me. I tend to drift away from fully believing who I am in Christ. Somehow, unbelief comes into my mindset. I get discouraged and battle worn and I need to find a way to calibrate my soul. Sometimes it’s the sin that is hidden from me that I need to confess. I may be hurt by someone, and I need to choose to forgive them. Other times, it’s just the uncleanness of the world we live in. All of these things can cause you to get stuck and have writer’s block!

5 Steps of Grace will help bring healing and deliverance to your life. You and I are cleansed by God’s Word. We need His Word to wash our minds of the unclean things in the world. These things become like a weight to us and they drag down our joy-filled love life with God. Set aside a time for you to pray through this guide to freedom. You can pray on your own, or invite a prayer partner or spiritual mentor to pray with you. Download your copy here!

National Procrastination Week is Next Week… Or, Um, In a Few Weeks. Yes, For Sure…

This post comes from WordServe author Rick Marschall. Welcome, Rick!

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There actually IS a National Procrastination Week, as most writers know. Or should know. If we didn’t know, we can count on editors to remind us. Or publishers. Or agents. Or spouses. Or neighbors and strangers who eventually figure why we small-talk with them, obsessively, at odd times.

But there is such an observance, appropriately not on a fixed date, usually in early March. If there were a day, not a week, the most ironic date would be March Fourth – because the dreaded P word has nothing to do with marching forth.

Most of us get tagged as being procrastinators. I have heard of writers who awake at, say, 7:28 every morning, commence writing at 10 a.m., take a 45-minute lunch break, and then write again until 4:30. Usually these writers produce several 900-page books a year, a fact that further confounds me. My guess is that if you are one of those writers, you spend most of your free time physically fending off attacks by crazed fellow-writers – i.e., the majority of us – who congregate at the intersection of Jealous Street and Incredulous Avenue, mumbling about you.

Over the years I have shoved out 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles, as well as uncountable scripts, columns, and blog essays. So I actually have been acquainted with deadlines, and, overwhelmingly, met deadlines.

But I write about that near-universal experience of racing the clock, if not the calendar, at deadline-time. I am wont to call them Last Writes, ha. If the profession invented the word Dead-line, then I can play with the term Last Rites. Enough puns here, because I seriously have a view about Writers’ Procrastination I never have heard advanced by anyone. It is a principle of our process, I think. Let me call this Marschall Law (Sorry, that is the last pun).

Whether we meet deadlines or barely meet deadlines, we assume guilt for the “minutes-to-spare” syndrome. Polite friends call it Procrastination; honest friends might call it Disorganization; harsh observers sometimes call it Laziness. Have you ever felt like pleading guilty to any of these? Have you ever finished a book without silently promising yourself to start earlier, write more, self-edit better, and finish sooner, next time?

Here is the realization I had. You have heard the expression, “Some people work best under pressure.” Some people do. We admire stories of Mozart and Beethoven scribbling scores, orchestral parts, mere moments before a first performance. Of Rodin leaving sculptures half-chiseled. Of Tolstoy’s first draft of War and Peace only running through Chapter 3, and his editor finding “etc…” before he squeezed the rest of the manuscript.

Actually, only the Mozart and Beethoven stories are true. (Otherwise, Tolstoy’s book would be known as War and Piece.) (That’s the last pun.) But most of us recognize that feeling. I have a view that if God, in the fullness of time, had not created Last Minutes, very little in this world would get done.

If it is true that some of us work best under pressure, I think it is logical – and, surely, subliminal – that we create our own pressure. Why do we find ourselves, say, reading instead of writing? Straightening out shelves and files when not necessary? Sharpening pencils, when we haven’t used a pencil since the first Bush presidency? Arranging our sock drawers?

Are we processing the next chapter? Reconsidering a plot thread? Praying for more wisdom (non-fiction) or killing off a different character (fiction) (I hope)?

No… we subconsciously create that inchoate factor, that diaphanous monster, called Pressure. Honestly, it is not really a monster. My best books (the most successful, or best-received, or ones I think have stood up) were produced in pressure-cooker scenarios; when I went total-immersion; when I ate, breathed, slept with The Book.

I could not have done that, in all those cases, if a date-book, instead of a Deadline Panic, had ordered my days. Panic worked, has worked, and I suspect for many creators throughout history, will continue to work. It should not change our working modes – we have all reached the limits of excuses – but can lift the guilt a little.

But somehow, I don’t think anyone will designate a National Panic Day…

 

rickmarschallphoto-110x165Rick Marschall has indeed written 74 books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. Bostonia Magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture,” and trying to maintain that reputation, writes in the fields of history, biography, music, television  history, and children’s books in addition to books, articles, and essays in the Christian field. He has been a political cartoonist, editor of marvel Comics, and writer for Disney. He currently is obscenely late on a manuscript, and while not making light of a writer’s responsibilities, has analyzed writer’s block and creative challenges.

Got Writer’s Block?

pencil-918449_640It happens to all of us at one time or another. If you’re anything like me, you probably tend to experience “feast or famine” when it comes to putting words onto a page or screen. At times it is hard for my now middle-aged hands to keep up with my brain; and other times, it is frustrating to these same hands to have little, if any, words I can string into sentences that make sense.

If the season I’m in permits me to do so, I use the down times to invest in my own personal growth. I study. I read. I observe. I take notes. I connect with others. This helps me in several ways, but this one way is what motivates me most:

It allows my brain to rest and receive. As writers, we offer so much output that we need to be careful to prevent our own well from drying up. Without investing in our own personal growth and development through relational and educational resources, we minimize our own effectiveness in what we share through our writing.

Most of the time, though, I have some kind of deadline–whether for an event where I’ll be speaking, a blog post I’m writing, a class I’m teaching, or a book I’m authoring. It’s in these situations that I find this one tip helps me get over writer’s block.

The Power of Story

For me, it helps if I can quiet the noise in my inner world long enough to allow a story to come to my mind. It might be a story I’ve read or a story I’ve lived. Either way, there is much to be said about how story inspires.

Consider the following:

“We may live our lives in prose, but it is poetry that we live for. A compelling story can evolve into a narrative that inspires a shared sense of mission. That, in turn can lead to a long and great legacy. That’s the power of story…

As Geoff Colvin explains in his new book, Humans Are Underrated, we are wired for interpersonal connections and put more stock in ideas that result from personal contact than from hard data. Essentially, we internalize stories much better than we do facts.

As proof he points to research that examined expert testimony in a court case. The study found that jurors considered experts that had a personal clinical experience far more credible than those that merely offered an analysis of the relevant facts, even if they were shown that a data driven approach is more accurate. In other words, the jurors needed a story.

Stories are emotional and we are more likely to remember and react to them.”

(For the entire article, written by Greg Satell for Forbes.com, please click here.)

So, if you find yourself struggling with writer’s block, find a quiet place, or do something with your hands that you don’t have to think much through (chores around the house help me), and allow the story to inspire your writing.

As you share the story with your readers, there’s a good chance you’ll connect with them on a personal level in a way that facts alone–regardless of how powerful those facts may be–could never do.

Consider what Curt Thompson, MD has to say in his book, Anatomy of the Soul, in regard to story:

“When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate. This is why simply reading The Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy…Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically non-integrating and, at worst, disintegrating. This is why telling our stories is so important.”

Your story is powerful. Refuse to listen to the negative voices inside your own head that tell you differently. There are a whole ‘lotta someones out there who need what only you have the experience to offer. 

7 Surprising Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

file0001849487704 The words stop flowing and we can become desperate. There could be a deadline looming or just our own daily goals. Writer’s Block – fearful words. How can we overcome it and move forward? Try these tips from the pros:

1. Take a walk.  For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. . .  I find that then thoughts begin to come to me in their quiet way.  — Brenda Ueland

2. Consider a media fast.  I had a half-dozen half-finished manuscripts on my computer, but I couldn’t seem to finish a book . . .  I decided to do a forty-day media fast out of desperation. . . In the process, I found that my writing became a form of praying.  I don’t type on a keyboard; I pray on it.  And by the time I was done, I had completed my first self-published book.  –Mark Batterson

3. Lower your expectations.  I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent—and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. Malcolm Gladwell

4. Don’t wait to have it all worked out.  If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. –Margaret Atwood 

5. Pray. The first thing I do when I am stuck is pray. . .I get on my knees and remind God that this was not my idea, it was His…Then I ask God to show me if there is something He wants to say to prepare me for what He wants me to communicate to our congregation.  I surrender my ideas, my outline and my topic.  Then I just stay in that quiet place until God quiets my heart…Many times I will have a breakthrough thought or idea that brings clarity to my message. — Andy Stanley

6: Chunk it. The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. — Mark Twain

7. Change course.  If you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject. — Ray Bradbury

Great ideas from some great writers.  What do you do when you are blocked?

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers   www.WritingSisters.com

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