8 Tips For When You’ve Hit A Wall

Photo by Fares Hamouche

Writers get writer’s block for all sorts of reasons. There is but one cause, however.

Fear.

That tricky little bastard doesn’t always show up with that face. It can disguise itself as all sorts of problems, and sometimes you don’t even view its disguise as a problem. Take for example family. It doesn’t exactly seem like a problem because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Taking care of the people you love. The problem with this is you usually forget to take care of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong–there are times life gets in the way. Emergencies happen. New babies happen. Finals in school happen. You should forgive yourself for literally not having the time to write on some occasions. I didn’t pick up a pen for the first 6 months of my son’s life. Single moming to a new baby was time consuming, and my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t possibly handle the effort it would take to write.

Falling off the wagon is easy, and honestly, it’s normal. What’s not normal is forever giving up your passion because life is happening because news flash: life is always going to happen.

Fear is primal. It’s instinctual. It’s a part of our evolution. It’s supposed to be there, and everyone feels it. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and not let it hold you back.

Tip # 1. Describe your proverbial wall.

Photo by Dave Webb

No, seriously. Describe it. Is it brick? Cement? Stone blocks? Does it have a pattern? Is it made of sheep’s wool? (it’s safe to say I’ve been playing too much Minecraft with my boy.) The point here is to get your creative juices flowing. Describe that wall in detail, down to the cracks and discoloring. I’m assuming it’s been erected for a bit now if you’re here.

Envision what it’s going to take to break it down. Try out a couple tools. Write how hammering it with a pillow does nothing, but you’re seeing some damage with the pickax.

That didn’t work? Okay, tip # 2.

Tip # 2: Dig deep.

Sometimes the only way around a wall is to go under it. Forget about describing the wall. This next exercise involves journaling. Start with the sentence “Why can’t I write?” then state your reasons. Next, think of ways to solve those problems. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends you trust to help carve out time for something equally as important.

These solutions still seem daunting? Write about the worst thing that could happen if you took time to write. Now write about the best thing that could happen if you took time to write. Compare results with a keen eye and see where the probability lies. Chances are, the world will not fall apart if you take the time.

Journaling is therapeutic. It’s listening to yourself as you would listen to the problems of your friends. A lot of people don’t do it, and they are honestly missing out. It’s easy for your mind to go to the worst thing that could happen when you faced your fear, but I recently read a book that talked about taking it to the next level. Deciding what the best thing that could happen if you faced your fear. It was game-changing.

Didn’t help kick start you? Next.

Tip # 3: Edit

Open up your manuscript and go to your favorite or least favorite scene. Read the one before that to know where you are, and then edit that next scene. Don’t worry about how good it is. The point here is to get you back to the story.

Nope, not yet?

Tip # 4: Inspiriation.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 

You started that story because something about it interested you. It set your soul on fire. Write a paragraph summary. If you want to keep going, do it. Let your inspiration take you. If your muse doesn’t show up, move on for now.

Tip # 5: Research

Every good story needs some level of research. This ties into tip 4. Your muse may visit again if you do some research on your topic. Read the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let yourself feel as you read. You’ll probably pick up some other ideas for your story, and that is the point. As soon as you feel it, write a small scene around that piece of research. Look at pictures, too. Pictures invoke our creativity and you never know. You could end up using that scene as one in your story. In fact, try writing a scene with that picture.

If that didn’t work, well…you know what I’m about to say.

Tip # 6: Practice stories.

Many people call them fan fiction, but I like to call them practice stories. Pick your favorite book and put yourself in it. Just start writing. The author did the hard work for you, and remember there is no pressure. No one ever has to read it (in fact, I keep my practice stories in a file labeled as top secret. I don’t want those babies getting out!)

Tip # 7: Rest

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson 

Every night as I’m trying to fall asleep, I think about my characters and my story. This sets my writer brain up for incoming ideas. Go over stuff you’ve already written or you already know. Let scenes play in your head. Something big pops up, write it down, otherwise, see what you come up with the next morning. This works for naps, too, if you can fit that sort of thing in.

A study done in 2010 found that deep REM sleep improved creativity and memory. Sleep improves our abilities to make connections. I don’t know about you, but when I have one of those “aha” moments during writing, I’ll do anything to have it again. Best. Material. Ever.

Tip # 8: Read

Reading is probably what inspired you to write. Sometimes I felt as if I’d waste my writing time by reading, so I changed my perspective of it. Reading is another way of practicing. It’s now part of my product time. Not all writers read (astonishingly) but chances are, you’re a reader.

The important thing isn’t how you get back to writing, but that you do. My main tip is to be careful with yourself. Be forgiving. You are only human. Writing isn’t a job, but it is hard. Even the best writers hit walls. I seem to hit a wall around the 75% mark without fail. Know that the one thing standing in your way is you. Thank your fear, but tell it it’s time for it to get in the back seat and let your creativity have the passenger. You’ve got places to go.

Check out my Writer’s Block Series for additional help.

Let us know in the comments below what you do when you hit a wall!

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.



Writer’s Block: Fear On Steroids.

Photo by Joe Beck

Imagine you’re a new blogger, and your blog is super important to your Author Platform. It’s one of the things that’s going to make agents and publishers notice you. It’s what’s going to start your reader base. It’s what’s going to make or break your career. You have to build it from the ground up, build it out of nothing, and hope you don’t fail. Because if you do, there goes your whole career.

It’s probably not that serious, but in this day and age, it’s pretty important to have an Author Platform. The point is that your anxiety probably rose a bit when you imagined all that pressure building over a blog.

You’ve probably felt it while writing a draft. You probably sat back and thought, “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and no one will be interested in a single thing I write.”

And then, poof, you can’t write. Not a single word. You stare at the blank page, maybe delete or scratch out whatever you did write. Devastation follows, self-loathing, depression, the whole works, because of one sentence. One feeling. But, probably a feeling you’ve felt far too many times, and not just in your writing life.

That is fear on steroids.

I promise there are ways to beat this feeling. As we all know, though, we are different people and what works for me may not work for you. We do have one main thing in common, though.

We can change how we think.

Use it or lose it.

Photo by Natasha Connell

First, it’s important to understand the brain. Scientists used to think that our neural pathways (basically a “signal path”) were set by our mid-twenties, never to change. They recently discovered this isn’t the case.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Brains have amazing neuroplasticity, which is the ability to reorganize those signal paths based on experiences.

It’s why some people who were abused or fought in wars develop PTSD. I developed it after domestic violence. It’s also why psychotherapy works (at least for me). Negative experiences can shape our brain, but if we work at it, we can intentionally shape it, too.

Bottom line is: you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Habits

Photo by Natasha Connell

Think of neural pathways like hiking trails. The more you travel a particular trail, the more defined it becomes. If we stop hiking a trail and start another one, the old one starts to grow back and the new one becomes well traveled instead. The strength of neural pathways depends on how much we work at a particular skill. It becomes easier the more we do it (habit).

The great part is that neuroplasticity helps in cases of brain injury. It takes neurons from damaged pathways and helps us cope in new ways, strengthening less used pathways or creating new ones. Like building muscles, it takes time. Takes resiliency. Takes stubbornness.

Which leads me back to changing how we think.

Self-Care

Photo by Jared Rice

We’ve all been guilty of self-sabotage, and being downright mean to ourselves. Let me be the first to say this doesn’t help out creativity. It dries it out, among a whole bunch of other psychological problems.

Ask yourself this: would you be so cruel to someone else as you are to yourself?

If the answer is no, then why treat yourself this way? (If the answer is yes, please do some soul searching. The world has enough ugly.)

You’re so busy trying to be perfect at everything you do, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. There is no greater gift than the ability to love yourself, and it’ll do wonders for your creativity.

One of my rules now is I don’t call myself names, not even when I’m so frustrated with myself and my inability to write that I could give up. I also try to not use definitive words when I talk about myself and my actions. “Never” and “always” are not in my vocab. (I’m still trying to reassign those neural pathways, so you’ll catch me still using them from time to time).

Say out loud, “I’m never going to be a good writer”. How does that make you feel? What happened to your mood? Now say with a little attitude, “I am a good writer!” Did it pick you back up?

As I stated, neural pathways aren’t redirected overnight. It takes time, practice, and patience. When you catch yourself being negative, correct yourself. Be nicer to yourself. Be the little engine that could. Shove the fear and negativity off the back of the train. You are worth it. What you’re writing becomes worth it with practice. No one can say things as you can.

Self-care is incredibly important if you want to live a healthy life. Without it, it can truly make or break you.

Training neural pathways is one way to beat writer’s block. Working on being positive will pay off. It’ll change your life.

Some times, losing it is positive, if you’re losing the negativity.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

Reject the Fear

Photo by Nathan Wright

Up until a few months ago, I had a terrible phobia of zombies. Yep, that’s right, zombies. Now, I believe in a lot of things–magic, the universe, Big Foot, ghosts, aliens–without having any sightings of them. But zombies? I didn’t believe in them, so why did they scare me so much?

Turns out, after some serious self-reflection, what truly scared me was loss of control. For me, zombies embodied that.

You’re probably thinking, “Okay, crazy lady, how does that tie into the whole rejection thing?”

Well, fellow symbol jotters, I’m glad you asked. What do zombies and rejection have in common?

Both can eat you alive.

Understanding Rejection

Photo by Lightscape

The fear of rejection is a survival tool. Humans are naturally social creatures, but community is how we survived. I use community in this meaning as groups. Back in the days of the earliest humanoids, individuals rarely survived. It took whole groups of people working together to survive the dangers of their world. This tool was evolutionary.

Rejection became painful because of its association with death. There mere thought of it made early humans (and modern humans) more likely to conform than be ostracized and left to their fate.

Rejection and Writer’s Block

There’s nothing like fear to halt your writing. It happens to the best of us. You’ve found yourself on a writing roll. You’re coming up with great scenes, your writing is on point, the words are flowing. Then, just as easily as the writing goes, it stops.

What if someone reads this and hates it? What if all your hard work is for nothing? What if you think it’s great, but it turns out it’s terrible? What if it never inspires anyone? What if…

As I said, it happens to the best of us. I get it all the time. Your favorite writers get it, too. No one is immune.

So, how do you deal with it and not let it stop you in your literary tracks?

Rejection Therapy

Photo by David Brooke Martin

They truly have therapy for everything. If you haven’t noticed by now, I am all about therapy and the positive outcomes it has on your life. This one surprised me but made total sense.

You hear writers talk about desensitization. Desensitization is a process that diminishes the emotional responsiveness to a negative or positive stimulus after repeated exposure to it.

Que my hero, Jia Jiang. Check out his video and his site, which you can find here.

See, what Mr. Jiang did was brilliant. He sought rejection to toughen his skin so that when it happened it wouldn’t hold him back. He asked permission for things that he thought would be a sure no to build up his tolerance.

People came through for him, but in different ways than he expected. Some said yes to his strange requests.

The bottom line here is this: You’re going to get rejected. Consider that the rule rather than the exception, but those exceptions certainly exist. Be a Jiang. Dig deep and face your fears. Figure out what the true meaning of your fears are like I did with the zombie phobia.

Publishers

Photo by Jaredd Craig

The good news is that publishers aren’t rejecting you, they’re rejecting your manuscript. That’s an important distinction to make because it keeps your spirits high and your ego from getting too hurt.

Now, one more for your ego. Your manuscript isn’t always rejected because of quality (though that can be a reason). It can be for any number of reasons that have little to do with your work. Here are just a few:

  • A publisher could have already published work similar to yours.
  • You could have sent the publisher a type of genre they don’t work with.
  • It could be as simple as the publisher was having a bad day.
  • Your work could have triggered the publishers own emotions in a bad way (their dog recently died and your work is about a dying dog).

Publishers are people, subject to human emotions. That being said, it’s important to check all guidelines for the publisher you’re submitting to. Equally as important: make sure your work is ready for submission. Edit, edit, edit. Have others read it. Read it aloud. We’ll talk more about submission in another post!

What are some of the ways you deal with rejection? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe!

Writing Spaces and Combating the Block.

Why did James Joyce prefer to lay on his stomach and write? Or why wouldn’t Truman Capote start or finish a piece of writing on a Friday? Why was Friedrich Schiller inspired by rotted apples? In this post, we’ll talk about writing spaces and writer’s block.

Let me tell you a little bit about my writing space. It’s on the second floor, in a room connected to my bedroom. It overlooks some pretty scenery and a small highway. The windows are donned with pink curtains that match the darker pink rug my sister gave me. I have an insanely heavy cherry desk that my brother-in-law nearly killed himself to bring in me for me, and a comfortable black computer chair I got from Goodwill.

The window sills are lined with crystals, and I have a crystal grid on top one of my bookshelves that is programmed just for my creativity. A salt lamp and a tiny water feature surround the crystal grid. The walls are spotted with boards for my writing and positivity pictures to remind me to keep going. I have one shelf dedicated to books on writing, spirituality, and blank journals. Another shelf is dedicated to all my other books.

I love my study, but is any of it necessary? At the moment, with the way my neural pathways are trained, yes, it is, but truly, is it necessary for the rest of my life?

Absolutely not.

What you need for a writing space is simply a place you dedicate to write. With that said, there is science behind having a place where you only write. A distraction-free zone where you visit only to work on your pieces.

I’ve done a recent clean out of my office to de-clutter it. I have fidget cubes to help me think when I’m plotting, but I found that I accumulated tons of unneeded distractions. If we’re being honest, all we need is a spot to write and the tools to do it.

How does a dedicated writing space possibly help defeat writer’s block?

Routine!

We have to head back to neural pathways. Remember, neural pathways, to put it simply, are the hiking trails of the brain. Some are less used and unknown, we don’t remember they are there until we use them more often. We don’t get lost on well-used hiking trails. They are what creates habits. The routine you’ve set for yourself will help you continue to use the magic of a writing space.

Ronald T. Kellogg, a cognitive psychologist, studied how schedules, behavior, and writing environments affect the amount of time invested in trying to write and the degree to which that time is spent in creative flow.

[There is] evidence that environments, schedules, and rituals restructure the writing process and amplify performance… The principles of memory retrieval suggest that certain practices should amplify performance. These practices encourage a state of flow rather than one of anxiety or boredom. Like strategies, these other aspects of a writer’s method may alleviate the difficulty of attentional overload. The room, time of day, or ritual selected for working may enable or even induce intense concentration or a favorable motivational or emotional state. Moreover, in accordance with encoding specificity, each of these aspects of method may trigger retrieval of ideas, facts, plans, and other relevant knowledge associated with the place, time, or frame of mind selected by the writer for work.

Ronald T. Kellogg,  The Psychology of Writing 

Take a look at the full article by Maria Popova here. It’s an excellent companion for this post.

When I first started therapy, I had a difficult time sleeping. This is normal, however annoying. My doctor recommended sleep training. I took the t.v. out of my room, and only used the room for sleeping. No reading, no writing, no school work, nothing. Pretty soon I was able to fall asleep without an issue. (Since then, I’ve moved the t.v. back in, but still have no problem falling asleep. In fact, the t.v. may be a waste because it really isn’t watched!)

This is the same thing that happens when you use a particular spot to write, or a time of day. But, at the end of that day, it comes down to classical conditioning. Pavlov taught us all about that with that horrible experiment with the dogs (I’m all about the science, but also all about animals).

You know how some smells recall certain memories? The smell of a brand of ladies perfume reminds you of your grandmother. The smell of the ocean reminds you of your last trip. Cinnamon reminds you of Christmas. This is because of neutral pathways.

Photo by Roman Kraft

Show up to your writing space and only write (or any other part of the process). Don’t use your space for anything else. You will reroute your neural pathways to invoke the need to write whenever you enter this sacred space.

It’s also important that you should ban others from entering this space. Of course, rules are made to be broken, and if you’re like me and are a single mom to a toddler, this rule isn’t always applicable. However, it’s important to stick to it as much as possible. I try to teach my son this is not a play area, but he can certainly come in if he needs me.

So, there you have it. The importance of a writing space to combat writer’s block. Do you have any routines you use to keep a writing schedule? Do you have a favorite famous author’s writing routine? Let me know in the comments!