Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega is a professor, mentor, and outspoken writer who does not mind sharing when he’s blocked. “I also get stuck. I want to write, but my brain doesn’t want to push words out through my fingers,” he writes on his blog. “When I set myself a hard target (e.g. 2 consecutive hours of writing), I often see it as a challenge. However, if my goal is to just write a paragraph in a paper, I often find myself that the writing flows more and more.”
Author Chibundu Onuzo has published two novels with Faber, and still, she uses…
“In order to get that feeling of flow, a writer needs to get in the zone and stay in the zone. Once you start, you have to keep going.” — Tracy Chevalier, in Swallowed by a Whale: How to Survive the Writing Life
The ‘zone’ means that you write with 100% concentration. You are on peak performance. Hours might go by and you haven’t even noticed. You’re fully immersed in your topic and write with maximum focus. Writing becomes effortless.
Unfortunately, daily writing often feels like the opposite.
You get up in the morning, read your emails, check social media…
“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary.“ — Cal Newport, Deep Work
There is a widespread myth that writing requires willpower, inner strength, and grit. Writing must be hard. If you were only disciplined enough, you’d get your writing done no matter what.
That’s actually not true. In fact, relying on willpower can backfire. Organisational psychologist Benjamin Hardy explains in his book Willpower Doesn’t Work that willpower is like a muscle that requires constant…
“The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.” — James Clear, Atomic Habits
It’s very easy to fall into self-limiting beliefs as a writer. When I had writers’ block in the past, I kept thinking:
“I’m not disciplined enough to write every day.”
“I’m a perfectionist.”
“I’m easily blocked.”
Every day that I procrastinated, I felt confirmation that I’m indeed a struggling writer. And that blocked me even more. Even when I tried a myriad of productivity hacks, it didn’t work.
“Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
When Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of Eat Pray Love, started her career, she suffered from crippling fear. “I’ve been a frightened person my entire life,” she explains in her book Big Magic. “My fear was a song with only one note … ‘STOP!’ ” Gilbert’s mother encouraged her to do things out of her comfort zone, but she found herself defending her fears.
The more she insisted on her…
“You need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well. … Don’t wait for the muse.” — Stephen King, On Writing
Writers are often told to establish an early morning routine to get into the flow. So, for years, I’ve been obsessed with morning routines to improve my writing productivity. Yoga, journaling, setting my writing goals, and then starting to write immediately— I was determined to get all this done before the kids wake up. I got up earlier and earlier, first 7 am, then 6…
“Your identity comes from your goals. Being totally bought-in and clear about the end you have in mind instills a deep sense of purpose. You can imagine your future self in the position you want to be.” — Dr Benjamin Hardy
When graduate student Ben Hardy decided to become a writer, he didn’t just plan ahead his next 12 months. Instead, he envisioned his big dream for the next five years: He wanted to become a bestselling author. This goal was so clearly fixed in his mind that he aligned his whole identity to it. It gave him a sense…
During the early weeks of Covid-19 lockdown, I stopped writing. I was squashed on my table that was too narrow to lay out my notes, in a home office that was too small to think big. The minutes ticked by. I found myself staring at the blank page, paralysed for lack of words. Instead of writing, I checked emails and social media.
Until I found virtual writing groups.
I am a perfectionist writer. I set out each monthly, weekly and daily writing goal in advance. But I’ve found that most of the time I’m not keeping to these goals. My immaculate lists remain untouched — until they haunt me in the middle of the night.
Then I realised: I have been doing goal setting all wrong. Every time I diligently sat down to plan my writing, the tasks spilled onto the page unfiltered. I listed things I wanted to do, blended them with stuff others wanted me to do, sprinkled in even more tasks that sounded necessary —…
From coming at opening time to bringing concrete goals
“Brrrrrrr! Gagagaga!”, babbles a woman, holding her baby up in the air. “That’s your first song, big boy! Dididididi!” I lose my focus and think about how quiet it was just minutes ago. This is the third time I’m trying to write in a cafe after lockdown has eased in the UK.
I’ve survived months sitting at my desk at home, being unproductive. A cafe has all I need: coffee, croissant, wi-fi, and power plugs.
But can I tolerate other people again?
My first attempt to write in a cafe failed…