How To Actually Deal With Writer’s Block: A Mindfulness Approach

I have seen a lot of advice drifting around on the internet, suggesting ways an author can overcome writer’s block. These often include things like – going for a walk, making coffee, having a break from writing, and spend some time doing something you love. These are all well and good, but what happens if you return from your walk and still find yourself staring at a blank screen?

I think the problem with writer’s block is our lack of understanding of the condition and what it is exactly that causes such a frustrating condition. Scientific research of the area is lacking, however, it is suggested that the main cause of writer’s block is anxiety. Anxiety leads to a certain evolutionary response within the body that reduce the mind’s ability to think creatively. You may have heard it known as the “fight or flight” response. In my personal experience of writer’s block, anxious and stressed is certainly how I felt. I would sit staring at my screen worrying about the “what if’s” of not completing my manuscript and worrying that I may not possess the actual ability to complete it. And while a nice walk may clear your head and reduce the symptoms of anxiety, it may not be enough to reduce your anxiety to a level where your creative thoughts can run free.

A popular, and what is becoming a well researched approach to reducing anxiety is mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as the non-judgmental acceptance and focusing on the experiences that are occurring in the present moment. This is a great psychological skill and one i have consistently used to reduce my anxieties in all parts of my life, including public speaking. Below are 4 ways which mindfulness may improve your writing.

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1) Reduce anxiety.

It is thought that our anxieties are primarily linked to thoughts of either the past or future. For example, you may have experienced feeling anxious during an exam. But it is not the actually process of taking the exam that is making you anxious, but the thoughts about what would happen if you do poorly in the exam that are causing the anxiety. Thoughts such as this are useless, as after all, the only thing we can do is effect what we do in the present. Learning to bring your thoughts back into the present moment reduces the source of the anxiety and increases your focus on the task at hand, helping to get your creativity flowing again.

2) Achieve flow state.

Have you ever become so engrossed in your writing that your mind becomes fully emerged in the world you are creating, you feel an unstoppable energized sense of focus, and feeling an enjoyment similar to when you first started to write? It is likely that you were in a state of flow. Research has shown that those who practice mindfulness find it easier to achieve this state. Mainly, due to the ability to ignore distracting thoughts and fully emerge oneself in the present moment.

3) Enjoy the writing process.

When we do not focus our attention on the present, we numb ourselves to all the feelings we could be experiencing. For example, imagine eating an ice-cream. If you eat the ice-cream while thinking about what you are going to have for dinner, chances are you will not fully taste all the flavor that the ice-cream has to offer. Now, imagine you are eating the ice-cream while focusing all of your attention on the present experience of eating ice cream. Its smell, texture, and flavor. Much nicer, eh? This can apply too with writing. If you give the process of writing your full mindful attention, you may find that you start to enjoy the process much more.

4) Concentration while editing.

After long last, you have finally completed that first draft. Now it’s time for the edit. Yet when you come to read over what you have wrote, you find that your mind is drifting elsewhere. This is in part a natural occurrence, but one that can be extremely frustrating. Training yourself to be mindful can help to increase your concentration and stop your mind from drifting off into thoughts of the past or future. A great skill to have.

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So how do we become mindful?

Mindfulness is primarily achieved through meditation, and like all psychological skills, it is not something that can be achieved overnight. However, after following a daily mindfulness program of just 10 minutes for 2 weeks, people have reported a noticeable difference in their thoughts and feel themselves becoming more mindful. Mindfulness is something that can be done for free with the internet offering great guides and videos, or even paid services if you are more serious about becoming mindful. In these you will find all you need to know about how to become mindful.

I hope you have found this a useful post on how writer’s could benefit from mindfulness. This is part of a writer’s psychological skills guide that I am in the process of putting together. My other posts include Keeping Your Writing Motivation High: How To Set Goals, with more to come in the future.

Please like and share and let me know what you think and if there is anything you would like to see in the future.

Keeping Your Writing Motivation High: How To Set Goals

As a psychology PhD student, my studies have taken me into the midst of many psychological theories. My particular area of study involves encouraging people to adopt certain behaviors, or do certain things. When trying maintain or increase motivation towards a specific behavior, a lot of research has suggested that goal setting can help you achieve this.

Goal setting may sound simple, and it really is once you understand its basic principles, but it can be easy to create goals that may actually become detrimental to the goals you want to achieve. Here, I will show you how to use one of the most well-established and simple methods of goal setting that you can use to set your own goals. Those of which can be applied to all aspects of life, such as staying motivated to complete your novel, adopting a new exercise routine, and learning a language (These areas are just some of those I have personally used goal setting for).

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The SMART method of goal setting has proved to be very useful to me and is extremely easy to pick up.

Specific – Goals should be specific. “I want to write fantasy” would not be a specific goal and would be difficult to know when this has been achieved. “I want to complete my novel” would be much more specific.

Measurable – The goal should have some component you can measure. Adding onto the previous analogy “I want to complete my fantasy novel”, how many words per day would that take, or how many hours per day? Using methods such as this to track progress helps to keep you motivated.

Attainable – “I want to complete a whole 80,000 word novel in a weekend” is obviously not an attainable goal. This aspect of goal setting is also very personal, and will vary person to person. “I want to write 3000 words per day” may be attainable for some, but for others, such as myself, it is not.

Relevant – Keep your goals relevant to higher goals you want to achieve. For example, “I want to write 1000 words per day” should be relevant to the higher level goal of completing your novel.

Time-based – It is easy for goals that lack a time component to be put aside and lost in a busy life. Having a point in time that you want to complete your goal helps to keep it high in your priority list.

For me, my current SMART based goals look like this:

  1. Complete the first draft of my fantasy novel by 31/10/18 by writing 1000 words per day.
  2. Study Japanese for 40 minutes five times per week in order to take and pass the JLPT 3 exam.

If you look back at the SMART principles, you will find that this covers them all.

Adding onto the SMART goal system, there are a few other points that research says make your goal setting more effective. These are:

  • Write them down and put them where you can see them – This helps to keep them at the forefront of your mind.
  • Don’t be too strict with yourself – For example, if I was to write 1000 words per day until the end of October would be much more than the word count I have planned for my novel. But it is likely that something will come up during those three months which means I am unable to write, so to ensure I stick to my goal, I have given myself some wiggle room.

If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I would love to hear your thoughts on whether you found it useful or not. Psychology is a very broad subject and if you would like to see more of it applied to writing let me know!