Who hasn’t felt the sting of staring at a blank screen and not knowing where to begin? Who hasn’t written page sand pages only to feel like a hack who can’t tap into the magic? Writer’s block is a fairly commonplace experience. And honestly, while I’ve never been a believer in writer’s block (I consider “life block” more likely for folks struggling with writing), I’ve also relied on a number of approaches to help a writer drive forward in their craft. Some are a bit more basic and widely discussed, while a few are more advanced. Let’s dive in to get you moving again.
Like anything you want to become great at, getting comfortable writing is going to require you to put in some serious regular practice time. Musicians have scales and athletes have drills. If you expect brilliance from yourself, you’re going to need to work on your craft regularly. So prioritizing rehearsal time is imperative. This is time to devote to working your writing skills, but not necessarily having to do with your book project. If nothing else, consider this time a warm-up. Prioritize at least 15 minutes a day for warm-up writing. I recommend starting your day with it—most of us are less inhibited upon first waking up.
Begin with Journaling
Journaling is an awesome warm-up. It releases the temptation to edit yourself because there is no expectation to the quality of a journal entry. It’s private, but also personal. So if you’re having trouble getting moving, journaling is a great way to start the words flowing without the pressure of producing something that will eventually be read by others.
Open with Gratitude
If journaling is challenging for you, try starting with Gratitudes. Nothing like beginning the day by focusing on what you’re thankful for. Give yourself anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to write out all the things you’re thankful for right now. From family and love to material items or opportunities, we all have things we’re grateful for, but often take for granted. Starting your day with Gratitudes is a brilliant way to get yourself moving with your writing while also setting up your day to live from a place of appreciation.
Once you’ve tackled your warm-ups, if you’re still struggling with where to begin, here are a few ways to jumpstart work within your current book project:
Give some thought to your subject (whether this be a non-fiction business book project, a memoir, or a piece of fiction), and spend the first few minutes asking yourself the questions you would love to find answers for within your writing. Here are some sample ideas for scenes you might be working to shape (note that the similarities for all these genres are staggeringly similar!):
1. What’s a major experience that shaped your thinking?
2. How did you see the world prior to the experience?
3. What’s an example of how you lived before?
4. When was the moment your eyes were opened?
5. Who was there and why were they fighting for your new world view?
6. Who was against you changing because it would impact their lives and how?
7. What was everyone who was there wearing?
8. Explore something sensory about someone in the room (such as how they were standing, what their skin looked or smelled like, or the way they were breathing).
9. What did the room look like, smell like, sound like?
10. What moment inspired the shift in understanding?
11. Where did you feel your initial awakening (heart, mind, soul, gut) and what was that experience like?
12. How did this new awareness shape the way you saw the world after that experience?
13. How did this new awareness change your behavior (give an example)?
1. What intersection of work and life created a new opportunity in your leadership thinking?
2. How had you approached work before (offer an example)?
3. Who was part of your transformative experience?
4. What was pushing the other person or people to push up against your previous way of thinking (name their motives)?
5. What was pushing others to help support a lack of change in you?
6. In what ways did you combat the change?
7. What obstacles did you have to overcome to change?
8. Typically we try to make sense of change before we buy in; how did your head rationalize the possible need for change (or against it)?
9. How long before you felt it in your body (heart, soul) and how did that present itself?
10. What internal conflict did you have to face to overcome your blind spot?
11. What past beliefs did you have to let go of to move forward?
12. How did your change make itself apparent through your behavior?
13. How do you feel about the change?
1. What pivotal character flaw does your character have to confront in order to change by the end of your book?
2. In what ways is that current flaw getting in the way of your character’s life?
3. Which other character(s) want/need this character to stay the same?
4. Which other character(s) want/need this character to change?
5. What is at stake if this character fails to change?
6. What other obstacles to changing exist for this character?
7. What is the pivotal moment that will create the opportunity to make a different choice for this character?
8. Who will be involved in this moment and why?
9. How does the moment present itself (paint the picture)?
10. What is said in the moment?
11. What is felt?
12. Are there ways you could raise the stakes for this character?
Get to the Essence
At the heart of all these exercises (whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction) is change and at the heart of change is both love and fear.
Fear is what is holding us back from change. Love is what compels us to change when the odds feel unbearable.
I urge you to dive back into these exercises and find the heart of the love and fear that is being experienced. If love and fear do not resonate with you, consider pain and joy. We are all running from past pain to avoid it, while simultaneously trying to pursue joy. Push yourself to explore the pain and joy in each of the above scenarios. Fear and joy are what raise the stakes for each of us.
A few thoughts before we part.
1. Try not to edit while writing. Writing and editing use different sides of the brain. Stick with writing for now and put on your editor’s cap later.
2. Prioritize your writing. Set up a schedule and stick to it.
3. Whenever you’re not sure what to write about, return to the basics: journal and explore versions of these exercises to unlock ideas.
4. If the act of writing is the most challenging part, consider asking someone to interview you using the questions above and record that interview. Then have the material transcribed and from there, you can somewhat skip the act of “writing” and move right into editing.
As always, I hope these are valuable explorations.