Unlock the block
How one writer overcame a writing block and how you can find a way through yours. Plus: Written in America, blue birds and dog pics.
‘There’s no such thing as writer’s block,’ thought novelist Jenn Ashworth – until it happened to her.
Ashworth had written regularly and easily since she was at school. A daily diary keeper, she got into fiction in her late teens and wrote two (unpublished) novels before she was 21. By 2017 when her block hit she was the critically-acclaimed author of six books, numerous short stories as well as the recipient of several awards. She was also a professor of writing, teaching creative writing and supervising post-graduate and PhD students.
When a family bereavement triggered her block, she worried that the book she’d been working on for the past two years was ‘crappy’. The longer it went on the harder it was to get back to writing. Panic set in. She told me:
‘I got scared that I wouldn’t be able to get back into it, that I’d spent years on it and it was gone and I’d ruined it.’
Naming and overcoming writer’s block
Last week we shared Robert Boice’s definition of writer’s block, where we ‘stumble, delay, and panic’ when facing a demanding responsibility. We avoid this threat by slowing until we are immobilised by fear.
The first step to overcoming a writing block is noticing and naming it.
That’s exactly what Ashworth did. She recognised she was blocked, that she’d fallen into a rut and developed a pattern of negative thinking that was overwhelming her.
What she didn’t do was punish herself, increase the pressure to write, or rely on willpower to push through. Instead she was kind.
On a ‘whim’ she posted on Instagram that she was starting a gentle challenge to: ‘turn up to my pages every day for 100 days however I feel and whatever happens.’ It was an attempt to make friends with her book. There was no obligation to write anything, no word count or time goal. Just show up.
It was very up and down, but Ashworth showed up each day. Sometimes she wrote, other times she edited, tinkered and planned; at other times she got distracted, procrastinated, ate Pringles and sulked. It all contributed. Ashworth overcame her block.
A personal approach to overcoming blocks
What triggers your block will be unique to you. How to make friends with your writing will be personal too.
Once you notice you’re blocked you can find your gentle way to overcome it. Begin by thinking how you can make the writing less challenging, scale back your goal, chunk it into small steps, take them one by one.
America here we come
We’re very proud to announce that our book Written: How to Keep Writing and Build a Habit that Lasts is now out in the US of A. We have a few American events planned (sadly online rather than in person) and we’ll have more details of these soon.
Notes for writing tips and dog pics
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Please admire the magnificent Peggy, our back office dog with front of house looks - you don’t get beards like that on Twitter any more (probably).
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