One Helpful Trick for Preventing Writer’s Block

A QUICK DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY USE AFFILIATE LINKS.

I started this post intending to say that when you write a lot, you start to write better. Words come more easily, you develop a kind of muscle memory that helps keep you going.

And do you know what happened? Writer’s block.

Proving, if nothing else, that the universe has a sense of humor.

Writing can be a tricky business. Sometimes I sit down to write and feel like my fingers just cannot type fast enough to keep up. Other times I’ve made myself dizzy spinning in my office chair, hoping to catch any thread of anything to say something at all interesting or valuable.

Practice does help. As I started building my freelance business, that’s one of the greatest things I noticed: as I transitioned out of a 9-to-5 job that only required me to write in email form—and started writing more long-form content—it became easier to write well. I was more likely to have the speed-typing problem than the chair-spinning problem.

But like so many things in life, a plateau is inevitable. You get into a groove and then it becomes a rut.

One tool I’ve been using to stave off such a rut is the Morning Pages practice from Julia Cameron. I haven’t actually read The Artist’s Way (or at least not past the introduction; curse you, shopping ban) but I’d seen Julia’s name in enough acknowledgements sections to be familiar with the gist of this practice that so many artists swear by: three pages of longhand, stream-of-conscious writing every single morning.

There are no rules to Morning Pages. You just have to keep doing them.

My own Morning Pages practice is still very new. But while there was some horror in showing up on day two and feeling like I’d already run out of things to think (and then write), it’s making a great addition to my day. Usually part brain dump, panic over to-do lists and deadlines, and trying to remember whether or not I’ve already fed the cat, it’s also showing me patterns in my thinking, releasing mental clutter, and giving me the opportunity to play with language that I otherwise might have thought but not written down.

It’s also a chance to engage both my inner critic and my inner mentor, to practice my real-live handwriting, and to reform that callous on my right ring finger that I’ve hated since I was a kid.

If one of the most important ingredients of good writing is just to keep doing it, Morning Pages is creating an invaluable daily space to do just that—writer’s block, be damned.

On Writing Rituals and Routines

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I had a professor in college who said he had a dedicated laptop for writing. It had never been (would never be) connected to the internet. He only wrote on that computer, standing up at a podium.

I often find myself trying to create a specific writing ritual, but I haven’t found anything in particular that’s stuck. Sometimes I write at my desk on a standard desktop PC. Sometimes it’s on my laptop (at my coworking space, at the library, on my couch, in bed) or even on my phone. I write at 8 a.m., at 8 p.m. Occasionally at 2 a.m. I write in silence or with music, with coffee or without.

I’m learning that it really doesn’t matter as long as I keep going. Stephen King wrote in On Writing that “the sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate – four to six hours a day, every day – will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them.”

Even as a bookworm and a professional writer, that can be a tough benchmark to hit consistently.

There’s always extra stuff on the to-do list, things to be tempted by: getting trapped in my inbox, worrying about my personal brand, doing chores around the house, trying to exercise more than once a year, not shopping, binge-watching Game of Thrones with my husband.

But it feels great to make the time.

This morning I spent a couple hours on my bookkeeping and on client work, and then I spent the afternoon reading a novel from cover to cover before sitting down to write. It felt like such a luxury!

And a rejuvenation. It turns out that writing after a few hours of reading a book (especially when you’re reading for recreational purposes and not out of obligation or requirement) feels a little less harried than after a big chunk of time in front of a screen . . . or several.

Maybe one day I will have an eccentric or very specific writing routine. Until then, I’ll just keep plugging away whenever—and however—I can.

What about you? Do you have a setting, time of day, or tools that you always use to write?

Meditation

I went to my first meditation class in college, where we did 30- and 45-minute sessions. I enjoyed it so much that I went back to my dorm to place a big Amazon order: floor cushion, mala beads, an eye pillow, most of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books. It turns out that buying a bunch of props does not automatically create a consistent meditation practice, but that first experience stuck with me and I’ve enjoyed meditating ever since. Here are some ways that meditation has been especially helpful since becoming self-employed:

Transitioning between tasks

Running a one-woman shop means that I’m not just doing work for clients, but also marketing my services, preparing for taxes, and sharpening my skills. More and more studies are showing that multitasking is a farce, but meditation can help! Taking a couple minutes—or even just a few breaths—between to-dos can make all the difference in refocusing my energy and preparing for the next item.

Calming anxiety

Dealing with anxiety is no joke, and the more tools you have the better. Meditation has been a great way to keep anxious feelings in check during busy days and stressful situations. I’ll often put some time of my calendar to meditate, but it’s helpful to remember that I don’t need a whole hour (or a special cushion) to get the benefits. Just taking one or five minutes can be enough to slow down and feel the present moment, lessening the anxiety.

Getting to sleep

Especially if I’ve been up late watching TV or working on a big project, it can be hard to get past the thoughts of to-do lists, the next day’s plans, or upcoming deadlines—instead of getting to sleep. Meditation is a great addition to a before-bed routine. Focusing on my breath and waiting for the change in my heart rate can help me drift right off to sleep with ease.

If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice, I highly recommend calm.com and their app (as a customer, not an advertiser!). Have you tried meditating? What tools do you like?

Daily Rituals

One of the best and most immediate perks of giving up my corporate job was that I could stop setting my alarm. I’ve always struggled with getting up in the morning: no matter what time I go to bed or how long (or how well) I sleep, I’m always happy to stay in bed a little longer. The snooze button and I have a close, personal relationship. I really hated having to be somewhere at 7, 8, or 9:00—especially if I was expected to wear business casual clothes and more than a swipe of mascara.

But left to my own devices this summer, the pendulum swung the other way. Having no routine has made me feel anxious about how I’m getting things done and guilty for eschewing all structure in my day. As I started trying to come up with the perfect daily agenda, I found the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work from Mason Currey. He compiled the daily routines of writers, composers, painters, choreographers, philosophers, filmmakers, and scientists—often in their own words. It’s a wonderful and interesting collection of insights.

Some wake at 4:00 in the morning, others at noon. Some follow a minute-by-minute routine and others let their intuition guide them. Charles Dickens went for “a vigorous three-hour walk through the countryside or the streets of London” ever day promptly at 2:00. Truman Capote only wrote while lying down, always with a cup of coffee and a cigarette . . . shifting from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis as the day progressed.

It turns out there’s no one schedule that defines the creation of good and important work. I still haven’t decided on a routine that works for me, but I’m slowly carving one out. So far it includes making the bed as soon as possible, finding a half hour for a walk, leaving my phone in the other room when I’m writing, and still not setting an alarm. I’ve decided I don’t care whether I wake up with the dawn or just in time for lunch.

What about you? Do you have a particular routine or ritual?

Page 2

I’ve had “start a blog” on my to-do list for approximately 11 months. As a person who likes to write, who likes to fancy herself a little bit witty and/or interesting, and who has recently started a freaking writing business . . . it seems like a totally reasonable thing to be doing. But I’m terrified of first pages.

When I start any kind of paper-bound project, and I’ve been doing this for years, I start on page two. Diaries, food trackers, notebooks for classes, bullet journals, blank calendars. I leave that first page blank on all of them and start on the second one. I’m not sure if it’s a fear of imperfection or just of starting, but there’s just a little less pressure after I flip past the first page.

I suppose I’ve avoided a blog because there isn’t a way to avoid that on-screen. I just have to start and hope that I don’t later feel compelled to come back and slide some kind of explanation in front: “What you’re about to read is a bunch of drivel and my apologies in advance.”

But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that good stuff happens when you commit to taking leaps. I suspect that anyone reading this post is likely to already know a good bit about me—which is probably true of most First Blog Posts—but here’s my quick introduction anyway:

I’m the 30-something owner of Mallory Herrmann Editorial Services LLC. I live in the Kansas City area with my sweet husband of nearly four months and our (mostly sweet) cat Hot Dog. I’m a lifelong reader and writer with a knack for finding subject-verb disagreement and an insistence on using the Oxford comma. I’ve been writing and helping writers for a decade, and I made the leap into full-time self-employment earlier this year. This is my first (and hopefully not last) blog.