4 Things That Cause Writer's Block and What to Do About It
I've sat here for hours.
Looking at my computer like I was looking at my 4th grade teacher reminding me to “color inside the lines”.
This is what my writer's block sounds like:
“finally a quiet place to write look a hummingbird no focus on writing wow there’s three of them have I ever seen three at once quit getting distracted write did a hummingbird just pee on me WTF write! Fine. but why write it won’t be as good as what I wrote last time and I’ll never be Hemingway anyway and I hate putting myself out there what if someone comments again like last time why wont the Huffington post pick me up OMG SHUT THE F' UP! Ok breathe just look at the humming bird to clear your mind oh look 3 of them quit getting distracted I am so stupid what is my problem…!”
It’s like my creativity is taking a walk through the Forest of Dead and Dying Ideas and falls into an unforgiving pit of quicksand, and the harder I reach for a vine to pull myself out, the more the sand swallows me up until my creativity finally dies a slow, choking, sandy death…
It’s just like that.
I’ve written about, spoken about, and struggled with getting UnStuck for years. My book, UnStuck Yourself, has been used in retreats, classes, and universities across the world, and I speak on the topic regularly. Let's face it, there's no shortage of wonderful resources on how to unlock yourself from creative blocks.
So, let's try something different--let's take a deeper look at the quicksand, the things that actually block us. Maybe then we’ll finally see a different vine. (yep, we're gonna use a metaphor...its easier that way...)
Here are four things guaranteed to give you writer's block, actor's block, and artist's block.
To stay in a creative flow, you must battle with your tendency to compare yourself to other people, past results, or self-imposed expectations.
Believe it or not, comparison is the root of doubt. When we interpret creativity through the lens of comparison, doubt triumphs, and our creativity is guaranteed to stall.
Here’s the problem with comparisons: they will only remind you of all the things you ARE NOT, and not the things you ARE. Comparison tells you that you're not as good as they are, not as talented as they are, and not as successful as they are. When we compare, we rarely end up on the better side of the comparison.
This creates a ripple effect of self-centric, ego-driven doubt that will destroy your creative brilliance.
But there’s hope!
The way to UnStuck yourself from the quicksand of comparison and doubt is to remind yourself of all the things you ARE. Literally, spend time reflecting on the things you ARE.
Can you list ten personal strengths right now? Can you write a paragraph about a time when you changed someone’s life?
When you remember that who you are is more powerful than who you are not, you will finally remember that you are enough. You will have pulled yourself from the quicksand of comparison.
Have you ever wanted something that did not belong to you? Then you know what greed is.
In today’s world, we usually point to people who seem to have too much of something as greedy. But, really, you are being greedy anytime you want something that does not belong to you.
My creativity is stopped when I find myself wanting something someone else has. Maybe it’s a car or house, or maybe it’s an opportunity, a role, or an award.
The only way to combat the debilitating effects of greed is to GIVE. If you feel stuck, turn your work off, get up, and go give. Give your time, give your money, give your ideas, give anything—just go give!
You can give to people your artistic community by calling your friend and offer to help them with a self-tape, or offer to read a script they've written, or go over lines for a scene. You can also give to the world around you by finding a place to volunteer or joining Urban Confessional and holding a Free Listening sign.
Here’s the cool thing about giving: it’s the only non-possessive form of love and it never runs out. Only when you think you’ve given everything and are left with nothing but the desire to give more, have you truly defeated the quicksand of greed.
So, get started soon, because each generous act is a vine you can use to pull yourself out of the quicksand.
I hate going to the doctor.
Ever since I was a kid, the belief that I was going to get pricked with a needle was enough to make me fake being healthy even if I was on my deathbed.
Here's why I’m scared of going to the doctor: because, irrational as it is, going to the doctor is going to hurt. I'll get a shot, a prod, or bad news. Either way, I believe going to the doctor is gonna suck.
When we believe the future will be worse than the present, we will be scared of it.
In this way, fear defines our limits. If I’m scared of heights, I stay low. Scared of sharks, I don’t swim in the ocean. Scared of dying, I won’t live.
Scared of failure, I won’t try.
Some of us are so scared of pain, we never discover how strong we really are.
When the quicksand in my head starts to tell me that no one will like what I have to say, that what I create isn’t very good, and that there’s no way I’ll ever amount to anything, I know I have succumbed to fear.
The only way to pull yourself out of the quicksand of fear is to replace it with HOPE!
More specifically, replace Fear of Failure with Hope for Success.
Hope for Success projects a positive outcome into the future, and creates a Hope Loop--a never-ending cycle of positive projections.
Here’s what the Hope Loop looks like: Hope replaces Fear, which opens the door for success, which creates more hope, which creates more success, which creates more hope, which creates more success…and on and on.
Once you get caught in a Hope Loop, you will see hundreds of vines waiting for you to take hold and pull yourself from the quicksand.
You should see me in traffic. I’m the guy who’s lost his mind. I’m yelling, waving my hands, and in constant disbelief that YOU can’t drive faster.
Yeah…I’m that guy.
And I’m sorry. I’m generally pretty even tempered, but I drive in LA, and it’s rotted my soul. So, I get angry in traffic.
Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry and expressing it. It’s not that you express anger, it’s where that expression takes you.
Anger can be quicksand, or it can be a vine.
When anger is a response to something you dislike, it will lead you into blame. Since I hate being in traffic, traffic-induced anger leads me into blaming others for my discontent.
But when anger is a response to something you love, it will lead you into solution. If you love animals, their mistreatment will anger you and lead you to solution.
When anger spurs a deep love, we move towards solution and find the never-ending fuel for our creativity: cause.
Your cause will be the thing that pulls you through the darkness and the difficult times, and roots you in meaning. Your cause will be the thing you will spend your life in service to. It’s powerful, strong, and the most important vine you’ll use to pull yourself from the quicksand.
To find this cause, begin with one question: what problem in the world keeps me top at night? Maybe it's injustice, or world hunger, or environmental issues. Maybe its something more specific that has personally effected your life. If you recognize it, and it bothers you, then you are uniquely qualified to address it.
It sounds weird, but living your life of cause begins by identifying a problem then using your talents to address it.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of the quicksand below you, it’s time for your perspective to change. Look up. And grab that vine.
I look forward to celebrating your victories.
Tell me about a time when your conquered the quicksand. How did you get unstuck?