Uncategorized, Writing

Three Ways to Get Yourself Out of Writer’s Block

Writer's block. Photos credit: Creative Commons, Shira Gal
Writer’s block. Photos credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Shira Gal

Confession: I’m breaking the golden rule of blogging and social media writing, because this post is really about me.

But, for all its apparent selfishness, this is a “physician heal thyself” message. I’m addressing my current creative struggles publicly because I’m guessing that you or someone you know wrestles with this, too.

If you follow this blog, you may remember that my first book was published last October by Fresh Air Books, an imprint of Upper Room Books in Nashville. Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk has been overwhelmingly successful—and Fred and I have been invited to share our interfaith experiences all over the Southeast.

But, speaking engagements have been a gilded invitation away from writing. Most writers will tell you that they lean into anything that distracts them from placing their rear-ends in the writing chair. Chores, day jobs, book tours–and in my case, all of the aforementioned plus People Magazine.

Meeting people, sharing our story, and hearing others’ stories are important to Fred and to me. Because we were an interfaith couple who could not find the resources we needed to guide us in getting started, we’ve felt an urgency to share what’s been gifted to us. By doing so, we hope others will take leap to get to know someone who views God very differently.

But, this means it’s been a busy seven months.

Busy, for me, equals balancing a day-job of teaching Public Speaking at a local arts college and designing presentations, retreat curriculum, and talks for event invitations. It’s a beautiful kind of hectic.

But, my writing has suffered.

After Saffron Cross, I made immediate plans to begin a second book on interfaith perspectives of death (reincarnation vs. bodily resurrection). That book is on hold as it finds a publishing home, and another book idea has been birthed as a follow-up to the more theological challenges presented in Saffron Cross. Both projects are slow going, which is not unique to the publishing industry. With no clear-cut deadlines at hand, I’m a writer who has a hard time achieving the butt-in-chair goal each day.

Even though I’ve published a book, most days I feel adrift, and I wonder: 

  • Who cares?
  • Does anyone even read my work?
  • Has anyone really been helped by the Saffron Cross story?
  • Should I bother to write at all?

These are dramatic questions birthed out of ego, insecurity, and creative lulls. Most artists face these thoughts–and that’s why there’s no shortage of articles, books, and blog posts on tips and tools for overcoming creative blocks.

So, what’s the way out of this rut? 

I’m determined to push myself out of this block. It’s not easy, but here are some tools others have shared that are helping me through this funk. I want to hear how you’ve coped, too.

1. Read. My friend Mary Caler, a sociology professor, calls this “getting smart.” When Mary was sick of writing her dissertation, she took breaks to read about her discipline. This made her excited again. Fred sends me no less than five articles per day (bless him). They range from time management to harnessing energy and learning how to say “forget it” (substitute your favorite four-letter expletive for “forget”).

I’m knee-deep in the confessions of the writers I love, like Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott, both of whom are on Facebook and post regularly about the creative push-and-pull. I regularly read excepts from Hillary Rettig’s 7 Secrets of the Prolific; and Tim Ferris’ blog keep us me trying new things. I’m obsessed with the writing habits of famed authors (did you know Maya Angelou writes in hotel rooms?).

Reading keeps me grounded. When I read that even the most respected, prolific authors struggle, it normalizes me–and you.

2. Let it go. Lately, I’ve heard parents and children belting this phrase from behind cameras and car seats. But this idea existed long before its “Frozen” fame. “Let it Go” is a lesson is giving up the ego and the control we allow it to have over us. Letting go is creating for creativity’s sake—crafting in order to be “in” the process and accepting what it has to teach us.

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. –Kurt Vonnegut, Letter to Students.

3. Butt-in-chair. This is a famous Anne Lamott phrase, shared among many in the writing community–from Stephen King to Annie Dillard to Joan Didion. Nearly all productive artists espouse the same practice in their own words. It’s doesn’t matter what comes out. Just get it done.

Last week, Elizabeth Gilbert reminded us that books get written in 30 minutes per day. Grab a cup (or four) of coffee, get comfortable, start your timer, and get to it.

My writing nook, which I need to visit more often.
My writing nook, which I need to visit more often.

This is the most difficult principle, because it’s a call-to-action. It’s saying to yourself, there are no more excuses, and you’re kidding yourself if you think that thinking about your craft all the time is synonymous actually doing your craft.

Summary

Let’s review: read, let go, type. Repeat.

A quick note and shout-out to Fred: The joke in our house is that Fred is my self-proclaimed life coach (see Saffron Cross acknowledgements). If you have a partner/friend/loved one who can keep you encouraged through your writing slumps, this is gold. Ask them to help you with this routine: read, let it go, type. Repeat.

If you live far away from loved ones or have just moved to a new community, consider connections you can make through writing groups or online writers’ communities.

OK. It’s time: physician heal thyself.

I’m off to find a cup of coffee, a timer, a comfy chair, and a keyboard.

Your Turn

What are your favorite ways out of your creative funks? What keeps you moving? Please comment below, tweet @jdanatrent, or post on Facebook.