Breaking Writer’s Block

Note from Crystal: I’m taking a break from the How to Make Money Blogging Series this week to let my friend, Jon Acuff, share a post on breaking writer’s block. I think many of you who are bloggers or freelance writers will enjoy his post. And be sure to stop by his blog — it’s one of my favorite blogs on the planet!

Guest post by Jon Acuff from JonAcuff.com

“Oh the irony, you can’t think of an opening sentence for a blog post that’s supposed to help people beat writer’s block!”

That’s the first sentence that came to my mind as I sat down to write this post. And as such, it had the honor of breaking through all that deafening white space on my laptop.

That’s something I do sometimes. I recruit whatever sentence is in my head to go first, to throw itself on the blank page grenade. To take one for the team and be that brave, often ugly sentence standing alone in that ocean of nothing. That big, often terrifying maw of blank that is waiting for you to fill it. With words and ideas and creativity and it’s just so empty.

You’ve got writer’s block. And maybe the “first sentence in my head goes first” approach doesn’t work for you. I’ve had writer’s block, too. In the last two years, I’ve written three books, dozens of freelance projects, and around a million words on my blogs.

I had writer’s block writing my new book, Quitter. I had writer’s block writing the content for the Quitter Conference. I’ve had 100 bouts with writers block. I will have 100 more.

Here is one way I’ve learned to beat it: Ask future you to be awesome. Whether you’re a writer or a car mechanic, the fear of perfectionism often talks us out of doing the things we’re called to do.

We don’t want to start because we’re afraid whatever it is we do won’t be perfect. So we sit and wait, scared to make a single move and write down a less than perfect sentence on our blogs.

What I do in those moments is ask future me to be awesome. I think to myself, “OK, right now, the stuff I write, might not be awesome. So Future Jon, the guy who will rewrite what I write tomorrow, will you please turn this into something awesome?”

And then I write. Future Jon’s got it all under control. That guy is going to do something amazing. Today Jon? His only responsibility is to get something, anything really, down on paper. It’s OK if it’s horrible. His job isn’t awesome. That’s Future Jon’s job.

The funny thing is that often, midway through writing the first few pages, I forget about that little arrangement I’ve made between Today Jon and Future Jon. I’ve never had a moment where hours later or days later, Future Jon has sat down to read what’s been written and thought, “Oh, this Today Jon is killing me. What kind of nonsense is this? How am I supposed to make this awesome?”

Nope, Future Jon is an appreciative fellow. He’s just glad that Today Jon got anything down on the piece of paper because that was really his only expectation.

Maybe that sounds weird to you and it probably should, because I’m weird. So let me say it in a different way. Next time you sit down to write, I want you to say one thing to yourself:

“Later, I’ll be awesome. Today, I’m just going to be productive.”

And then just start.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? What did you do to get over it?

Jon Acuff is a speaker, author, and launcher. He has written three books including the Wall Street Journal Bestseller Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job and Stuff Christians Like. You can read more of his work on JonAcuff.com or follow him on Twitter @jonacuff.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for this post! I just started my blog over the weekend and need all the encouragement I can get. I’ve already felt that twinge of inadequecy that my writing wasn’t as awesome as other bloggers. I have to continue to push through that and just write, it’s the only way I will improve!!

  2. B says

    Enjoyed this post. I am not a blogger, but I think this applies to so many avenues in life. I am a photographer and I find the fear of perfectionism crippling me at times and preventing me from taking risks. I just read a book recently writen by a home organizer contractor. She said she found some of the most unorganized homes were often those of highly perfectionistic people. They are affraid of not getting it right so they don’t do anything at all. I think a lot of us sometimes allow our perfectionistic tendencies to block us from our full potential. Thanks for sharing this post.

  3. says

    “Later, I’ll be awesome. Today, I’m just going to be productive.” Now that is awesome!

    I used to try and beat writer’s block by reading other blogs, responding to comments, or checking my stats. These are NOT effective strategies, even if they are a tiny bit productive.

    I’ve finally realized that writing is HARD, and putting it off doesn’t make it any easier. So I just dive in and try to be productive. I try and write on at least a two-day writing cycle (draft one day, polish the next) which helps to keep paralyzing perfectionism under control.

  4. Tammy says

    I read his blog almost daily-Stuff Christians Like.How exciting to have him write for you Crystal.

  5. says

    LOVED, loved, LOVED this article. From such an astute, successful author/speaker…it’s a relief to know that you too struggle with your own expectations! Thanks for sharing so specifically how you work around your blocks. I’ll be using this technique for sure!

  6. says

    I needed this last night! I was writing my article for the mom site I write for and I was just BLANK. My problem is that I am too quick with the publish button, so future me never gets a chance to make anything awesome.

    I need to work on that!

  7. Ryan says

    I find it helps to doing something physical to kind of clear out my head once in awhile as I’m writing. Don’t walk away from the computer too long or you’ll get sucked into doing something else and procrastinating. Just get up and do a couple jumping jacks or put on a song and do a little dance for a few minutes. I find that when I have writer’s block it is usually other thoughts getting in the way, be it worries of perfectionism or what I should make for dinner, and a single minded physical action breaks the chain of thought.

  8. says

    Thanks for writing this! I’ve actually been struggling with that very thing. I haven’t written a post in a week or more, and the longer I wait, the more I feel like what I write won’t be perfect. I’ve been struggling with wanting to scrap the whole thing and try something different.

    My 6 1/2 month old has had a harder time sleeping through the night than my 2 year old did, so it’s so hard to get up early and write. It’s hard to catch a nap in the afternoon, and nighttime is the only time I get to see my husband. So I’ve been having a hard time establishing a blogging schedule for my 3 month old blog.

    Anyhow, thanks for the encouragement!

    • says

      Have you considered setting aside a writing time once a week to write your posts for the following week? This is something that’s been very beneficial to me during busy seasons of life — especially when I couldn’t get up early. The children would have a special Daddy Time and I’d go to a coffee shop and write for a few hours. It might not work in your situation, but I just thought I’d suggest it if you and your husband feel like making time for writing is something you should be making a priority in your life.

      • says

        Thanks for the suggestion! My husband is my biggest fan, and does want me to make my writing (or artwork, or other creative endeavors) a priority. He’s working long days, 6 days a week, but I’ve been trying to be more creative with my time management in the last few days since I read this. You know…”productive rather than awesome.”

        Also, thanks to some suggestions I saw on “Life in a Shoe,” (http://inashoe.com/2005/10/sleeping-like-a-baby/) Oliver is sleeping through the night again! :)

  9. Sara says

    Crystal, do you know how happy you’ve made me to have Jon Acuff as a guest writer? My husband couldn’t take a nap while I was reading Stuff Christians Like one Sunday afternoon because I was convulsing with laughter.

    • says

      Don’t you love his blogs? He’s been an amazing inspiration to me and I was so excited when he offered to guest post!

  10. Kristine says

    Awesome post! I also struggle sometimes with the fear of not being perfect. Thanks for the inspiration. :)

  11. says

    I experience writer’s block often. I find that one of the best ways to overcome writer’s block is to take some quiet time out to yourself. Clear your mind of all worries and meditate about becoming a great writer. Listening to some soft music, like Classical or jazz while you work should help to boost your creativity. Taking a walk out somewhere that there are nature scenes is also very inspiring.

  12. says

    Sometimes it helps me to just start over, and see if I like my new beginning better than my old one. If nothing else, I can combine the two together and perhaps get something better. It is a little hard to abandon something you’ve invested in, but the reults can be worth it.

  13. Heather says

    Is Jonathan Acuff seriously your friend? That’s impressive! I love his book Stuff Christians Like!

  14. says

    Excellent post! Yes, I struggle with it, on a daily basis. Espeically when I’ve recently completed large assignments and the last thing I want to do is write. Sometimes just a few minutes of quite time, my coffee and inspiring magazines helps get my juices flowing again.

  15. Jill Larson says

    Writer’s block is a terrible feeling to have! Jon had it just right though- all you have to do to beat it is to just write!

    I also wrote an article on writer’s block (seen below). You will find many common themes in the things that get us all writing, so you know they work, ha ha! Hopefully my article will help inspire you all as well!

    http://hubpages.com/_superhero/hub/How-to-Beat-Writers-Block-Just-Do-It

    Speaking of “just writing” I want to thank you, Crystal! You have inspired me to blog for fun and for profit. It’s helped me out a lot as I suffer from chronic pain and I’m used to being an active person. I was very depressed about not being able to play sports, but now I write instead and it helps out a lot. You are a blessing!

      • Jill Larson says

        There is just something about writing that soothes the soul- especially when you’re writing to help others. You’ve put together a great thing here. You inspire us in so many ways. Keep up the great work and from the bottom of my heart thank you again.

  16. says

    Great post. I love the idea of a “future me.” I will have to share that with my children. One of my children really stuggles with starting things and I think it’s root is perfectionism. I’m glad that he wants to do things well, but he really needs to learn that sometimes “done” is better than “perfect.”

  17. Naomi says

    I don’t know, maybe I’m weird but I really have to disagree a little here. Okay, well not completely, but there are times when I need to write something and I just can’t. I can’t put the words together. I can’t think straight. I know what I want to say, but even when I write, it’s not coming out well. That’s when I have to just stop and do something, anything else. Then, w/o fail, bam. Eventually it hits me. I have my idea, the words, format, whatever it is I need.

    Honestly, I also find it even more time consuming to just sit through a writer’s block (and write anyway as John suggests), because then even when I get started, I’m just not happy with what I’ve written. It really helps me to walk away completely for several minutes or even an hour or two. I guess it just clears my mind. The other way around, my head just gets all muddled, which never helps.

  18. says

    I have been having writers block for awhile. I think part of the problem is trying to be perfect in my writing instead of just writing what I want to say.
    I like the “future me” idea. Done really is better than perfect.