The other day someone in my Organic & Authentic Business Strategies Group asked this question, “What do you tell your clients when they claim to have writers block?”
Besides writing commercially (copywriting and journalism) I write fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, poetry and I blog. Except for in the movies and for the fact that I just finished reading Stephen King’s Bag of Bones (which is all about this topic — and of course, ghosts), I’ve never experienced, “Writer’s Block,” in my life.
The reason — copywriters and journalists don’t have the luxury of being blocked. You have to write all the time to stay afloat in your industry. If you want to get paid — you have to make deadline. What comes out, may not all be anointed by the muse but the ink always flows from the pen. Why?
I know that when I work on fiction, the process is somewhat different from the commercial stuff but only in the sense that I’m letting my imagination come up with stuff, instead of letting research and interviews be my guide.
But what IS the same is the practice of writing. The discipline of sitting down and plugging away. This never changes (unless, I decide to avoid working by checking into Facebook, reading blogs or finding some other excuse to delay the practice.)
Which leads me to a technique I use when mentoring new writers, I call it “Make an Appointment.” While I don’t tend to subscribe to the “wake up every day at 6am and write” school of writing, I do think that a little discipline goes a long way in establishing an ongoing writing practice.
Procrastination is the nemesis of every writer, especially when facing the blank page and when you haven’t established a well-oiled writing practice. This is why “Make an Appointment” works.
When you make an appointment in INK with yourself, it means an appointment you CANNOT break. It doesn’t matter if you write 2 words, no words or 1000 words, what matters is that you show up at the appointment time for one hour each day (up to 7 days but I like to say 5 days, so as not to overwhelm people.)
You make time each day, one hour to wrestle with the muse, to face down that blank page. One hour to confront all those deep, dark, fear-laden, REAL things that you shove down in your daily life. One hour where you CANNOT hide.
If nothing happens in that hour, it doesn’t matter, you get up and leave, forget about it and go about your day. The next day you show up, sit down and face the page again. This is NOT time where you can read articles online, or go on Facebook or read a book or your mail or anything else EXCEPT confronting the page.
What happens, inevitably, every time (I’ve yet to have someone this did NOT work for) is that the muse will show up. If you make the appointment and show up every day and you are unrelenting in keeping that time strictly for your writing– she will show up. And by the muse, I mean your brain, your imagination, your creativity, the story you just have to get out — it will show up as scheduled. It will show up and you will begin filling pages and then, pretty soon the appointment won’t even be necessary and neither will the time limit, because it will be pouring out of you.
The human brain does NOT like to be bored. By making an appointment with yourself, you are training your brain. You are telling it, “I’m showing up here every day and we will sit here and be bored to death, if we have to be. We will stare at this blank page for an entire hour. The first few days your brain may resist, it may try to trick you into “doing the dishes” or “making a quick phone call,” but do NOT waiver.
Your brain, when faced with NOTHING to do for an hour, at a specific time every day, that it knows is coming, will begin to store up things for you to write about– like a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter. Suddenly, ideas will be coming from every direction and before you know it, you won’t be able to get them down on paper fast enough.
Training your Brain
Writing, like anything, takes training and practice. Your mind is just like your body — a muscle that when left to rot on the couch, goes soft. When you get up off the couch and start running every day, you build those muscles. It’s no longer a chore to get off the couch and go run because your body craves the exercise, if you don’t do it.
This is exactly the same for the mind and it’s exactly why you NEVER hear copywriters or journalists complain of writer’s block — they’re marathoners, Olympiads and world-class athletes. They’ve trained, and continue to train, every day. Their mind is a well-built muscle, ready and willing, craving to perform.
It’s like that old saying, “Busy people get more done in a day than someone with nothing on their schedule.” When you have more time there is a tendency to waste more of it, because there are so many options of things you could do. When you have less time, you have less excuses, because if you want to get something done, chances are you’re going to have to squeeze it in somewhere in your schedule by making an appointment.
When you write every day to put your bread and butter on the table, writing to deadline — you just have to fit it all in and get it all done on time or there’s no $$.
Even if you’re not a journalist or copywriter, you can have the same writing stamina as those that are — just make an appointment with yourself and make your writing a priority you can’t ignore.