Q&A: How Do I Get Over Writer’s Block?

how to get over writers block

We’re introducing a new series to the Good Badger called: “Q&A”, which is short for question and answer.  After a thorough investigation (conducted by me), the conclusion has been reached that I am the unquestioned coiner of this phrase.  You know this claim is valid because you’re reading it on the Internet.   If you have a question you’d like answered, send it here.

Today’s question comes from Zach D in Denver, CO who writes the following:

Hi the Good Badger,

I know you’re probably busy saving baby animals from being abducted by evil corporations, teaching Elon Musk how to build electric cars, and super-modeling, but I was hoping you’d be able to help me with something.

You see, I get great satisfaction from writing.  I enjoy the therapeutic effect of transferring my thoughts to paper, sharing my ideas with others, and doing so in my own unique-as-a-snowflake style.  My problem is that I suffer from tremendous writer’s block.  There are many days where I’d like to write, but I’m either at a loss of ideas or motivation.  What advice can you offer to overcome this?

Thanks.  I bet you smell really good.

– Zach

First and foremost, thanks for the note, Zach.  And you’re absolutely right.  I smell great.

Funny you should ask how to get over writer’s block, because I too currently have fallen into a writing-abyss.  Luckily for you, this is not my first journey to dumb-town (I actually own a timeshare there), and through much first-hand experience, I have found the roadmap back out.

But first, let us address a fun fact about writer’s block

There is no such thing.

That’s right, if we’re defining writer’s block as the mysterious disappearance of the ability or inspiration to write, then the term is total bullshit.  More accurately, it’s Loch Ness shit.  And until you can deliver me a heaping steam of Nessie’s naughty sauce, I will continue to call you a liar.

With this said, writing blocks happen, however it’s not some plague, virus, or curse that robs a writer of their creative energy.

Said voids of production happen as a result ONLY of bad habits.  By and large, these bad habits fall into one of three categories:

1) A Lack of Regimen

If writing is a priority in your life, it must be handled accordingly.  Having access to quite literally limitless amounts of entertainment, information, and communication (AKA #selfies) by way of our iDevices has lead to the extinction of boredom.  This formerly known phenomenon was the ideal condition to get writers writing.

Today, time must be carved out.  If you operate off a calendar, schedule an appointment.  If to-do lists drive your day, put “writing” at the top, followed by “seriously, fucking do it”, “bitch, I ain’t messing around here”, “it’s okay, you can skip it today if you’re not in the mood”, and “just kidding asshole, write.”

Naysayer: “But what if I don’t know what to write?”

Yaysayer: “Excuses, is that you? It’s cute that you’re trying to disguise yourself as a reason, but I’ve been duped by you before. Fool me once…”

In other words, you probably do know something worth writing, but you’re not confident enough to explore this idea in its entirety.  Of course what ultimately happens once you sit down is that your idea takes several unpredictable turns and magically arrives in the town center of Awesomeville.  As they say, the hardest part of working out is putting on your shoes (also, deadlifting). Once you get moving, the endorphins inspire 45-60 minutes of kinetic bliss. Same philosophy applies to writing.

In the off-chance you’re legitimately completely void of ideas (and even if you’re not), one practice I’ve found incredibly helpful is something called Morning Pages, created by Julia Cameron.  “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” When I’ve been consistent with this practice (which admittedly is far less than always), all other writing is far more lucid and creativity abounds.

Credit should also be given to Brian Koppleman, as I was first introduced to this practice when he discussed it on a recent Tim Ferris Show.

2) A Lack of Exposure

Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty beacuse they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.  It seemed obvious to them after a while.  That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. – Steve Jobs

Steve’s right.

To play off our previous point, there are times whereby you’re suddenly overcome with an idea so potent you can’t not put it to writing.  Obsessively, you scribble away on your notepad or pound on your keyboard until you’ve got a couple thousand words of passionate chaos.  After a bit of chiseling this chaos turns into beautiful, convincing prose.  Not only was it easy to get started, but the real challenge was trying to pull yourself away.

Why can’t it be that easy all the time?

Well, it can.  If you’re having trouble finding this stroke of inspiration, chances are, you’re not exposing yourself to the necessary stimuli to catalyze this reaction.  Specifically, this will come from:

1) Personal experiences and/or
2) Reading (or audiobooks)

I wrote a book. Some of the credit goes to the teachers who challenged me growing up. Some of the credit goes to Appalachian Trials’s wonderful editors. But as long as we’re divvying credit, let’s go ahead and give a large slice of that pie to doing something as stupid / interesting / bizarre / challenging as walking from Georgia to Maine.  Without this incredible life experience, there is no book.

Now am I suggesting that you give up everything and take a half year hike through the mountains?  YES I AM.  But in the off-chance that’s not feasible right now, I encourage you to go do something, anything that exposes you to a new environment.

And if you want to take the inspirational super-shortcut, pick up a new book.  Learning begets growth, which begets inspiration.  Ask a friend for a recommendation and go read your balls off.  In fact, here are a few books I often recommend to get you started:

If reading a thought-provoking book still doesn’t get the inspirational juices flowing, chances are, you’re suffering from…

3) A Lack of Whiskey

“When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run in a different plane like whisky?” – Ernest Hemmingway, professional alcoholic

It is said that human beings only use 10% of their brains.  Now let us overlook the fact that people who say this are wrong, because there is real merit to this fake fact, which is- human beings are creatures of habit.

For the purpose of completing tasks (brushing your teeth, deciding what to eat for lunch, driving a car, etc.), habits are wonderful. They conserve energy by simplifying the complex.

For the purpose of stirring creativity (unless the habit is designed specifically for this purpose), they are less wonderful.  Picture those toy car race tracks from when you were a kid.  Habit will allow your car to zip around the track faster, but creativity necessitates us launching that fucker off the rails.

Enter whiskey.

Studies show that alcohol can spur creativity, and I have plenty of empirical evidence to confirm these findings.  Sure there are plenty of reasons not to drink alcohol (or so health-professionals claim), but if you’re stuck in a writing rut, a little bit of whiskey will lift you right up.

Of course there are other creativity-boosting options if booze is not your drug of choice including actual drugs, meditation, exercise, and adrenaline-inducing activities (i.e. extreme sports).

And if regimen, exposure, and whiskey aren’t cutting it, you could take the extra pathetic route and just ask yourself a question and pose it as a Q&A.

  • Love the article Zach. I myself am working on overcoming the nonexistent “writers block”. I really feel that I need to increase my intake of Jack Daniels 🙂
    In all seriousness, thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. I consistently write in my head, and unfortunately those thoughts don’t make it pen and paper as often as they should. Love the idea of the Morning Pages.