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December 27, 2018

What Is Writers Block (Really) and How Can We Beat It? — Guest: Lisa Bell

Multi-colored brick wall with text: Writer's Block? Beat It with "Brain Hacks"

At some point in our writing career, we’re likely to struggle with writing—or with feeling creative at all. We might stare unseeing at a blank page. Or we might just feel like we can’t focus on writing.

Whatever symptoms we experience, no one wants to suffer from Writer’s Block (TM). *grin* But there are debates over whether writer’s block is even a real thing. That uncertainty makes it difficult to figure out what causes our writer’s-block symptoms (whatever they are) and how we can overcome them.

That’s why I found Lisa Bell’s insights into the topic so interesting. My regular readers know I love brain science stuff, and she explains the science behind our brain’s structures and functions to dig deeper into what writer’s block is and how we can beat it.

Please welcome Lisa Bell! *smile*

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Is Writer’s Block Real?

By Lisa Bell, Dip.A.Hyp.; Cert.NLP; CCC

There’s an enemy that lurks in the shadows of every writer’s mind, waiting to pounce at any moment, playing devil’s advocate, and being responsible for acidic stomachs and self-defeating behaviors. It’s feared by even the most brilliant writers, and legends of its terror have been passed down, prompting new generations to arm themselves with the latest courses, bootcamps, and coaches.

While some escape its grasp, many writers fall victim, giving up their dreams because the idea of meeting this enemy creates a fear unknown to anyone but a writer.

This enemy? Writer’s Block.

The Unpopular Opinion About Writer’s Block

Is Writer’s Block real? Yes and no.

Helpful, right? Okay, allow me to explain.

I do believe writers experience moments of frustration that cause them to feel blocked. However, I also believe Writer’s Block has been exaggerated to justify a writer’s failure to dedicate himself to write.

As a community, we have made it a legend to fear, and, to be honest, the horrors of Writer’s Block are nothing more than a belief that have been passed down from one generation of writers to the next.

We have given it more control over our writing than it deserves. From the perspective of a writer and hypnotherapist, I hope to provide an explanation of Writer’s Block that resonates with you.

Left or Right Brain?

Writers and other creatives were introduced to the idea that you have a right and left brain that controls either your creative or logical traits. And though this concept may have had the best intention to describe how our creative mind works, it’s caused many writers to debate whether they are right or left brained, thus either creative or logical.

Though various parts of the brain have specific roles, to think of the brain’s creative and logical processes as separate brains is not accurate. You have one brain with separate sections that have individual processes that support the whole brain’s ability to sustain daily functions.

None of those processes turn off while another is active. Your logical processes cannot function without your creative processes and vice versa.

Don’t Limit Yourself to Being Left-Brained or Right-Brained

Am I the only writer who wondered whether I was creative enough to write fiction? Or, perhaps I am too logical and should concentrate on nonfiction?

I can remember sitting in a cafe in Halifax, Nova Scotia, looking at my computer screen through blurred vision because I submitted to the idea that I was blocked because I was more logical than creative.

That was the day I stopped writing fiction and began writing workbooks for government-funded employment initiatives. My decision to stop writing fiction was so painful I stopped going to that cafe, and I hid my manuscript in a shoebox. I reconciled my decision by convincing myself that I should be grateful for writing at all.

Our Left and Right Brains Work Together

This need to identify whether you are creative or logical is unnecessary because your brain, based on current data, cannot work without either. In fact, you use your creative mind every time you make a decision, research what to cook for dinner, or shop for groceries.

Think about that for a moment and then try to go shopping without imagining how those parsnips will taste with the yogurt and berries you were pining after.

Since your creative skills are needed to make logical decisions, we must conclude that your logical mind is required to engage creativity. This, my friend, is where writers get confused and, thus, blocked.

A Brief Introduction to Your Mind

Your mind is a your superpower. It’s often misunderstood and neglected, but will determine whether you’ll attain—and maintain—success.

By understanding how your mind works, you’ll appreciate why writers must manage their thoughts and engage both their creative and logical mind processes in every activity.

Our Conscious Mind

Your mind has three main sections known as the conscious, the analytical layer, and the subconscious. Not only does your conscious mind facilitate your decisions, it’s also rational, protective, and in charge of exercising our free will.

The conscious mind can only concentrate on one task at a time, and when it’s forced to decipher a multitude of thoughts and ideas, it rebels by becoming distracted and overwhelmed. This is when problems begin during the creative process.

Our Analytical Layer

The analytical layer, often called the critical layer, is the gateway between the conscious and subconscious mind. Since one of its responsibilities is to transfer information between the conscious and subconscious, think of it as a network cable.

Our Subconscious

Many people believe it’s the conscious mind that’s in control of their body. However, that job is delegated to the subconscious because it’s responsible for protecting you and taking on all habitual tasks like digestion and ensuring your heart beats. But it’s also responsible for implementing your habits, good or bad, and this is another reason writers face problems.

Your subconscious doesn’t concern itself with time, and when it recalls a memory from twenty years ago, it will replay the event as if it’s happening in real time, causing you to feel the same emotions and physical conditions as you originally did.

That’s why hearing a song that reminds you of a specific event causes you to have strong emotions associated to that event. After all, a song is only a song until we resonate with the words and put meaning to that experience.

The subconscious also can’t determine whether something is fact or fiction, or whether a habit is good or bad. This is why writers can be their own greatest enemies by committing to self-defeating behaviors such as Writer’s Block, as well as falling victim to the starving artist myth.

The Power of Our Subconscious

Unlike the conscious mind, the subconscious can multitask, and it’s in control of your imagination. In my opinion, and many experts agree, your subconscious is your muse and the internal compass that helps you navigate your life. It’s where your intuition manifests and is the storehouse for all the memories and information you require.

The subconscious is often referred to as the unconscious mind, but this is misleading because the word unconscious refers to the conscious mind being knocked out due to trauma of some sort. Your subconscious is never unconscious; it’s constantly aware and takes on your habitual tasks and bodily functions that keep you alive, even when the body itself is unconscious or sleeping.

Your subconscious acts like a super-powerful computer that assesses new information (data) and only passes on what it feels is important to the conscious mind. This is nature’s way of preventing your conscious mind from becoming overwhelmed by unnecessary information. This is important for you to understand as a writer, because it helps to explain why you may feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear.

How Our Subconscious Works with Our Conscious Thoughts

Your conscious mind needs to concentrate on new (present) information that’s deemed significant. Your subconscious protects you by filtering out anything else that will distract you.

As an example, you think about a unique idea to write—only to discover it’s not so unique after all. Or, you might want to buy a car that’s different than everyone else’s, so you buy a metallic blue Kia Sorento. As you drive the car, you notice several metallic blue cars just like yours.

These are simple examples of how your mind filters information to match your thoughts.

How Our Thoughts Can Hurt Us as Writers

The same happens when a writer decides he cannot write because he’s not talented enough. Those limiting thoughts will cause his mind to filter information to validate his thoughts.

Is your subconscious helping or hurting your writing? @lisabellwrites knows... Click To TweetWriters who struggle to finish their books often feel powerless and overwhelmed because they worry about things that may never happen. In fact, most writers who have trouble writing past the middle of their book do so because they fear success.

For example, what if no one reads your book? Or, what if someone writes a bad review? What will happen if you become a bestseller and people expect you to write another great book? What will happen if you become a success and your family and writer peers become jealous?

You logically know these thoughts are imagined and may never come true. However, your conscious willingness to write will be affected by these imagined thoughts if you don’t learn to manage them.

Remember, your subconscious doesn’t know the difference between fact or fiction, and therefore believes your imagined thoughts. Fortunately, as a writer, you can use this to your advantage.

Why You Think You Have Writer’s Block

So, what does this have to do with Writer’s Block?

Simply, you have Writer’s Block because you haven’t prepared your mind to accept writing to be as important as any other task. When you struggle to put words together, or decide what character should be killed off—all while your thoughts are interrupted by images of dirty dishes and baseboards—your conscious mind will tell your subconscious that your writing needs to be put on hold because you’re needed elsewhere more important.

What is writer's block...really? @lisabellwrites shares insights from brain science Click To TweetYour subconscious, the protector and warrior, will go through its database of stored memories to determine whether this is true. And, if you haven’t developed the skill to control such interruptions, the subconscious will block all your attempts to create.

Writer’s Block is nothing to fear and can be controlled rather easily when you develop the skillsets to involve your logical, conscious mind in the creative process.

Writer’s Block has nothing to do with your ability to write or what you do not know as a writer. It has little to do with your skill or whether or not you feel creative.

It’s the result of your conscious thoughts telling your subconscious that there’s something more important to be done and, let’s face it, writers have been conditioned to accept that writing is not very important.

How Do We Overcome Writer’s Block?

The Solution? You must make writing habitual and as important as any other task to stop your conscious mind from interrupting. Sounds simple, but it does take a bit of reprogramming and shaking off old habits.

First, you have to accept that your conscious, logical self needs to be involved in your creativity.

Remember, your conscious mind loves all things organizational. Allowing it to help with your writing, however creative, will ignite a passion that highly successful writers and entrepreneurs experience daily.

Use Our Left and Right Brain Together

It’s never a good idea to interrupt your writing to perform other tasks unless it’s absolutely necessary, because doing so will change the energy of your work. Therefore, for the best results, create a list of all the things that are involved in your writing process.

These include the boring tasks of dusting a shelf of books to the exciting trip to the stationary store for a new journal. It also includes your actual preparation to write and your cleanup and wind-down time.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Do you require time to research? What research do you need to do?
  • Do you need new supplies? What kind?
  • Do you need to conduct interviews? With whom? Why? When?
  • Do you need to backup your writing files? When and where?
  • Do you need to register for a new course? When?
  • Do you need to schedule travel arrangements to a conference? When? Where?
  • Do you have to edit one of your drafts?
  • Do you need to clean your desk? When? What do you need?
  • Do you need to put the phone on silent?
  • Do you need to hook your laptop into a larger monitor? What cables will you need?
  • Do you need to make coffee or tea prior to writing? Do you have it or need to put it on the grocery list?
  • Do you need to design a new cover? Will someone help you?
  • Do you need to write a new blog post? What’s the topic?
  • Do you need a new website or landing page? Who will help? When will this be completed? What are the benefits?

These are only a few of the common tasks that I have documented that require a lot of conscious, logical thought.

The problem is, many writers are very disorganized and do these tasks sporadically, if at all, and sometimes at the last minute. Others will try to do them all at once, causing them to become anxious and overwhelmed, therefore causing more blocks.

Organize Our List

Now that you have created this list, identify the category of each task, which ones are…

  • administrative,
  • educational focused,
  • writing session preparedness, or
  • wind-down tasks such as cleaning up your notes, putting resources away, backing up files, and having a celebratory dance.

Next, prioritize which ones have to be done:

  • every time before and after you write
  • on a regular schedule.

Now that you have done this, I want you to look at your scheduler and dedicate time for doing administration, time for learning, time for preparing for sessions, and time to wind-down from a session.

How Can This Organization Help Us Beat Writer’s Block?

Oh, I know what some of you are thinking. I’m sucking the joy right out of your writing, right?

Writer's block? @lisabellwrites shares “brain hacks” to beat it! Click To TweetNot necessarily. I have tested this theory on dozens of so-called blocked writers and entertainers and, though it took some time to convince them, they all marveled at the change in their work.

Remember, your subconscious mind filters out everything that’s not relevant to the immediate task at hand. Also, remember that the subconscious cannot differentiate between fact or fiction.

So, when you busy your logical mind with tasks that have a direct benefit to your writing, you give it the go-ahead to accept writing as important—and it will signal to the subconscious to get involved. The subconscious will then focus your attention on writing and nothing else.

When you feel blocked, remember it’s only your conscious and subconscious battling for attention. Stop writing for a moment, do something logical that pertains ONLY to your writing and then revisit your writing session.

A Word of Caution

When you make these lists and appoint each task, do not note or do anything that isn’t directly related to your writing. This is extremely important.

You must engage the logical, conscious mind by having it focus solely on tasks that will benefit your writing.

You see, if you barge into the house in a rush to put away groceries whilst on the phone with the garage with the intention to write in fifteen minutes for a half-hour before the sitter brings back the kids, I have news for you! You might write, but it won’t feel productive.

The same is true if you write while knowing you’ll have to rush off to do something else. Your mind will focus on what’s important, and until you decide your writing is as important as anything else, you will constantly feel the pull to do other things or nothing at all.

This feeling of self-doubt and confusion is what causes you to feel paralyzed, and this paralyzation is what people refer to as Writer’s Block.

Summary for Success!

  • Resolve Writer’s Block by involving the logical, conscious mind with the creative process.
  • Remember not to distract your conscious mind with tasks that are unrelated to your writing. You do this by creating lists and scheduling prep and wind-down tasks.
  • Make sure you take the time to invest in your writing by reading books, taking courses, and reviewing other resources. This shows your conscious mind that you value your writing and will signal the subconscious to start collecting data to support you.
  • When you feel blocked, remember it’s only your conscious and subconscious battling for attention. Stop writing for a moment, do something logical that pertains ONLY to your writing, and then revisit your writing session.

Give it a go and let me know how you made out. Visit me at www.rightmindforsuccess.com to learn more about the mind science of success for writers. The academy offers courses, clarity sessions, self-hypnosis, and hypnotherapy for writers.

*****

Lisa BellHello, my name is Lisa Bell and I am your CHAMPION.

I created the Right Mind for Success Academy to help writers achieve their goals. Writers are told how to write, but few are taught how to prepare their minds for success.

I do not teach writers how to write, but I teach them to become better writers and build their businesses for longevity. With several specialty certifications and diplomas in coaching, career counseling, NLP, and hypnotherapy, I specialize in the mind science of success, using career counseling and hypnotherapy to help writers take control of their career.

When I am not obsessing over the brain and learning how our mind influences our success, I study and write fiction and non-fiction.

Website | Twitter | Facebook

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*****

Thank you, Lisa! Your insights resonated with me so much. Yeeks. But in a good way. *grin*

Like Lisa, I’ve often wondered if my logical, analytical mind meant that I wasn’t creative enough to be a novelist. Yet all those right-brain/left-brain tests always showed me in the middle, so I should have realized something wasn’t right with the usual paradigm, right?

Also, we often talk about getting into the writing groove, like with fast drafting, as a way to shut up our logical inner editor. But as Lisa points out, we first have to get our conscious mind on board with writing at all.

And I loved, loved, Lisa’s insights into how our subconscious works with our conscious thoughts—and how we can use that knowledge to filter and validate our experiences in helpful ways. These are “brain hacks” that we can put to use and improve our chances of writing success. *smile*

Have you suffered from writer’s block before? Do you recognize your symptoms—such as bad habits or inability to focus on writing—in this post? What have you tried to overcome the block that worked or didn’t work? Have you ever tried putting your logical, conscious mind to work to help out, like Lisa suggests? Do you have any questions for Lisa?

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Felipe Adan Lerma

Right brain & left brain together, conscious and subconscious minds also together – this is so much what I believe and experience, but way more articulately expressed – thank u! 🙂

Sieran

This was a fascinating read! ^_^ I’ve heard of the brain’s filtering effects, but never thought of this application before. I don’t really believe in writer’s block (though I do believe in writer’s excuses, lol!), but yes, someone could be unable to write for whatever reason. The reason could even be something as mundane as being too hungry and unable to focus. Haha most of the time, I get right brain when I do online brain quizzes. Yet, people often think I have a logical/scientific/ researcher’s brain. :/ Which just goes to show how well other people know me. XD But yes, the left brain right brain thing is too simplistic. I agree that we need both the logical and the creative sides. I rely a lot on peer pressure to keep writing. And peer pressure does actually work for me. But it’s not always good to be motivated by guilt and/or social comparison, is it? You’re right that much of society discourages us from prioritizing our writing. This is especially true if you are not relying on your writing for money. For some reason, people think it’s okay to be dismissive of my writing career just because I’m not earning any income from it. Well, in my opinion, just because your writing isn’t making money for you, doesn’t mean you can’t take your writing seriously and prioritize it. (Also when people ask if you’re free, and you reply that you’re busy writing, they interpret this to mean that you…  — Read More »

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[…] the New Year, many writers want to increase their productivity. Lisa Bell tells us what writer’s block really is and how we can beat it, J.J. Hanna has tips on how to write more in the time you have, Tales by the Unexpected advises […]

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[…] Writer’s block real? Read Lisa Bell’s guest post on Jami Gold’s blog here. Spoiler: The answer is yes, and you can train your brain to fight […]

Anne Kaelber
Anne Kaelber

Jami, you are THE BEST. I’ve been struggling for a while with this novel. Today I was browsing the newsletter emails and saw the title of this post. THANK YOU SO MUCH for having Lisa come by and talk about this, because that’s exactly where I am right now. Despite knowing I need to “just get over it”, I’ve been avoiding and avoiding….and the self-doubt is rampant.

I’ve been trying to use logic, just didn’t know to apply the logic to my *habits*, not my actual work (yet). *grin* Now, I’ve got a plan to work from, thanks to this post.

I tried to sign up for the 3-day course, but the website is having some issues right now. In the meantime, I’ve got to go work up my writing process list.

Anne

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