How To Defeat Writer’s Block Without Going Insane

Hello, everyone! Thank you for finding time in your busy life to spend browsing our blog. We have never run two Journalism Tips columns in a single week before, but today that changes with the help of an editorial on the topic of writer’s block. The post you’re about to read was written by James Shotwell, otherwise known as the guy who writes essentially every post on this site. He has Twitter, but he asks that you follow Haulix first.

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I love my job here at Haulix more than I have ever loved any career, but some days I wake up and know almost immediately that the last thing I want to do that particular day is create content. My job involves a lot more than keeping this blog maintained, but ensuring there is at least one post featuring industry-facing content live every single day is a big part of how I spend my time. Between brainstorming features, doing research for advice columns or interviews, scheduling interviews, conducting interviews, transcribing interviews, drafting the actual content, editing my content, and promoting said content once it’s live I do not have a lot of free time on any particular day to sit around and stare blankly at the word processor on my computer screen. I need to create, whether or not I feel like it, and truth be told that has been the case nearly every day since I decided to start music blogging seven years ago. The only difference is, nowadays I have a slightly better understanding of what it takes to work at that level, and even though I hit walls from time to time I have found methods of getting around those mental roadblocks that can easily be applied to your life as well.

Before we can tackle writer’s block, we must first address the reasons why we write, and more importantly why we must stick to a routine in order to excel. This has been written countless times in the past, but the only reason anyone should be pursuing a career in music writing at this point in time is out of a sheer passion for the art form. The chances of finding a lasting career in this industry are slim to none in most cases, but those who do make it through to find steady employment do so because they use their own thoughts and feelings to forge a connection with the world at large. They speak and write in their own voice, staying true to themselves even when their opinion is not the most popular. They wake every day and do whatever they can to further connect with the outside world through their content creation, which is kind of like signing up to feed a growing monster whose hunger is never able to be full satiated. Ever worse, that monster will move on to another person with content to feed it should your efforts begin to slip. This is why falling into a routine is a must. Writing every day keeps an aspiring writer’s name circling the web. It also ensures that the writer is continuously refining their craft, setting aside time every day to focus on their passion and improving their ability to do it well. 

Establishing a writing routine is a relatively simple idea to put into action, but maintaining your dedication to that routine is another story altogether. As I mentioned above while sharing my own personal experience with writer’s block, some days creative people do not feel all that creative. They may be distracted with other concerns, tired, burnt out from having worked too hard for too long without giving their mind time to relax, or something else entirely. The number of reasons for why people feel unable to create are as numerous as the amount of ways people can cure their so-called writer’s block. Every writer experiences these moments of creative burnout, but rarely are these events caused by the same reason. Just as every writer has a voice entirely their own, so must every writer have things that both inspire and distract them from further creativity. For me, trying to do too much is often where I find my creative drive beginning to stall out. If I need to create an article to go live the same day I write it, my mind begins to stress over all the other tasks and conversations that must be set aside in order for that content to be created. Once that panic has passed, I then usually realize I have no immediate concept for my article and panic a second time fearing whether or not whatever I do come up with will be as good as whatever ran the previous day. The fear of not topping what was created in the past is something very familiar to me, and when I let it creep up on me without thinking my ability to move forward is stunted.

The key to overcoming these encounters with writer’s block is as simple and, at the same exact time, incredibly difficult as learning how to step away and distract your mind. Forcing yourself to be creative will only result in mediocre output, and the more you push yourself the more your work will suffer as a result. There are times in life when pushing yourself to work, be it to meet a deadline or simply get something you have no interest in complete, can be a good thing, but when it comes to making an impact on the world and ensuring your voice in writing is recognized almost nothing good can come from making yourself write when you have nothing worthwhile to say. This is not the same as abandoning your routine, as writers should at the very least attempt creativity at a set time/place on a daily basis, but it may cause you to break from your plan on occasion. Remember: One day away will not be the end of your career. I know it may seem that way, especially if something incredible breaks while you are away, but if you are truly putting your all into your work then taking short breaks from time to time will not stall your career progression.

For me, in order to step away from writing to the point I become focused on anything else in the world requires a great effort. I need to get out of my house, which also doubles as my office, and out into the world at large. Sometimes this means going to the grocery store or running errands, but more often than not I find myself headed to the movies (alone). I am not sure I could ever explain why the movies are the place I feel most at peace, but for whatever reason when I enter a cinema my mind is able to unwind and reenergize while actors play pretend on the big screen. Even if the reason I felt unable to write previously was because another element of my life was distracting me, going to the movies has always been a surefire way to cure my creative block. Sometimes that is due to the fact I leave feeling inspired by the creativity of others, but other times it’s because whatever I saw was so dull I feel compelled to create something better out of spite. No one will ever know that is the reason, of course, but in my mind I am constantly waging a way against mediocrity, and every time I manage to draft something I feel confident in I have taken one more step toward eradicating the works I perceive as bad or otherwise underwhelming. Is that necessarily true? Not really. But that does not change the fact that going to the movies allows me the escape I need from reality in order to once again sit down and begin creating content.

I cannot tell you what your escape will be, but I will say that you are probably already aware of the activity or place you need in order to relax your mind long enough for its to refuel its creative juices. Whatever that thing is, I urge you to never take it for granted and never allow anyone to tell you it’s stupid, dumb, or anything of the sort. Each writer’s journey is different, and therefore the things we need in order to continue moving forward are varied as well. What works for me might not work for you, and if your thing involves a lot of physical activity it probably won’t appeal to me. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not hard for random assholes inhabiting this planet to make you feel weird about your own choices. Don’t let them do that to you. Stay true to yourself and in time you will find the best means to unwind, which will lead you to defeating writer’s block.

It’s not all about finding an escape however, though that is a major part of defeating writer’s block. You also need to be conscious of your personal expectations for your work. I think Malcolm Gladwell said it best when he wrote:

“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent—and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.”

A lot of people will tell you lowering your expectations is the first step in a slippery slope to embracing mediocrity, but I have to disagree. Without the ability to lower our expectations it would be incredibly easy for us to hate ourselves because of our inability to achieve certain self-imposed goals, regardless of how unrealistic they may be. In order to achieve greatness people must first attempt what seems impossible. If they can pull it off, the bar is set even higher. If not, the bar must be ever-so-slightly, but only so that we do not become discouraged with our ability to do more than we are currently capable of achieving. When we hit that new goal, albeit lower than we initially hoped, we feel a renewed sense of determination for continued growth. At that point we can again try to reach our original goal, and from there we continue to explore just how far our ability will take us. We might fall on our face, sure, but it’s only human to make mistake. It’s not ever trying that’s the true failure.

There are people in this world who will tell you that writer’s block is only results from the fear of being confronted by our lack of abilities, but my experience in this industry has taught me that is rarely the case. Writer’s block is something that occurs because we push ourselves to the breaking point and expect nothing to give. We recognize the internet’s endless need for content and wish so much to fulfill it, even if doing so means sacrificing precious time and relationships. We get it in our heads that if we push ourselves just a bit more then maybe – just maybe – something will change and our lives will never be the same. The truth is that the only way something like that happens is from sustained quality content creation. It’s not about the day to day as much as it is the big picture, and if you want to stand out against the sea of hopeful music writers you will need a history of quality content creation to back up whatever it is you’re doing today. Find a routine and stick with it, but also listen to your body and know when you need to step away. There is nothing wrong with taking a break. The internet will almost certainly still be here tomorrow, and your readers will be waiting. Take time for you so that you’re able to make content for them. It’s more important than you know.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.