How to take a break from writer’s block

How to take a break from writer's block

If you’re a writer, you’ve certainly sat down at some point and realized you’re unable to create the right words. I could go into the mental anguish and agonies that ensue, but you already know them well:

The “not good enough” whispers in your mind. The self-frustration that you can’t translate your thoughts into sentences. The stress that descends down upon you like a thick shroud.

This is when most writers start to panic, especially if they’re being paid by clients to create these words. After all, you don’t want an unhappy client, and your income depends on pleasing others.

You could search the internet for voodoo mind tricks that snap you out of the spell. You could force yourself to sit at your desk for hours, telling yourself you’ll just break through this.

Or you could give yourself a break.

Why Taking a Break from Writing Works

Experts say that when you can’t sleep, there’s no use staying in bed, tossing around and waiting for sleep to come. All you’ll do is stress out more: “I can’t sleep. I have to get up and work in the morning. I have to sleep. But I can’t.”

Trying to force yourself to write is much the same. “I can’t write. I have to finish this project or my client will kill me. I have to write. But I can’t.”

Sleep experts recommend that when you can’t sleep, you should stop trying to force sleep upon yourself. Writing experts recommend that when you can’t write, you should stop trying to force yourself to write.

Why? Because forcing yourself to do something you can’t do right now only results in greater anxiety. Soon, what you’re trying to do becomes a source of anxiety in and of itself… and that sort of self-sabotage sucks you in like a black hole.

In other words, writing itself becomes a source of stress. Which only makes things worse.

Give Yourself Permission Not to Write

Taking a break from writing is a good start towards recovery from writer’s block, but if you feel guilty about taking a break in the first place, you’re not helping anything. All that does is create a vicious circle that goes like this:

You’re having trouble writing, and you’re mentally berating yourself. “What am I doing?! This is terrible. I can’t write… why can’t I write? I have to write. This isn’t working at all. I can’t write a thing!”

So you decide to take a break. Get away from the computer. And you go outside. You take a deep breath, feel relieved for about 5 minutes… and start mentally berating yourself for screwing off in the first place. “Look at you, out here goofing off. You should be inside writing! What a slacker you are.”

Apparently this is normal: Psychologists claim that 80% of our everyday thoughts are negative ones.

That’s interesting, but it’s not very useful when you’re trying to give yourself a break. And just as useless is the “easy” advice to not think about it – to just ignore those negative thoughts away.

Doesn’t work.

In fact, trying not to think about something makes you think about it more.

Instead, acknowledge your thoughts. “I’m having the thought that I’m goofing off when I should be writing.” Then do this:

  • Ask yourself if the thought is true.
  • Are you really goofing off? No, you’re not. You’re caring for yourself by relieving the pressure and breaking away from a negative state of mind that was causing you stress.

  • Ask yourself if the thought is important.
  • Does this thought require urgent action? Will lightning strike you dead where you stand if you don’t? Will the world come to an end? No, no, and no.

  • Ask yourself if the thought is helpful.
  • Is this thought assisting you in some way? Is it useful to you? No – it’s actually the opposite. It’s not helpful, and in fact, it’s trying to get you to avoid taking helpful action.

When you acknowledge a thought, qualify it as untrue, unimportant and not helpful, your brain can move on to a healthier, more productive thought. You always have a choice, and your brain constantly works to make choices about the thousands of thoughts you have each day.

Help it make good choices. Remind yourself that everything’s going to be okay. The world won’t end if you don’t write for the next hour, the rest of the day or even the entire week.

Literally talk to yourself out loud. Tell yourself, “It’s going to be fine. Everything will be okay. This too shall pass.”

Because it will. Focus on right now. Take a break from writing, and make it the best possible break you’ve ever had in your life. Give it your all. Make the most of it.

Stop Worrying About It

It’s important not to live your worry, and to set it aside. Otherwise, you can put yourself into a tailspin of worrying about writing from which you can’t recover.

You can’t write, so you stress about not being able to write, and then you stress about stressing over not being able to write.

Relax. You will be able to write again. Your inability to write right now is temporary. It may last a day, a week, a month, or even a year, but it will go away.

And if your income depends on writing, find another way to get the work done. Treat the situation like any company would if one of their employees went on sick leave. They’d find a replacement to do the work, and the employee would eventually come back to work and take back his position when he’s feeling better.

You can do the same. Get help. Hire another writer to replace you for a while. There’s no shame in that, and it could be the start of a great relationship that provides you with extra hands when needed, or one that even helps you grow your freelance business.

Here’s one final cool fact to feel proud of: Your anxiety over writer’s block might be a sign that you’re an intelligent person. According to a 2014 university study, those who worry more rate higher for intelligence than others.

So go do the smart thing. Give yourself that break.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Writer’s block has hit me hard at some points in my life. It’s nice to read some practice advice on how you can overcome it and learn to take some time away so that you can come back refreshed. Thanks for the share!

    • You’re welcome! I’ve definitely had enough of the woo-woo ‘just write, it’ll come back’ advice myself, and I’m glad these practical steps resonate with you. Enjoy your break, Dylan, and keep me posted on your progress!

  2. Katrina Moody says:

    This is interesting to me. I know that, fundamentally, I have a harder time writing because I have such a hard time focusing. Now, that could be my adult ADD in fine form or the fact that I have three kids home on summer break with me right now 😮

    Because it’s so hard for me to focus, I’ve taken to trying out free writing again. It seems to work – when I practice it and don’t forget to do it!

    • Focus is one of those strange beasts, isn’t it? So elusive!

      Personally (and I also have a touch of ADD, the diagnosed kind), I’ve found that focus comes when I eliminate all the distractions. Kids, TV, phone, cats, email, chats… it’s actually really difficult to get distracted (even when you’re prone to it) when there aren’t any distractions around.

      Oh, and daydreaming while staring out the window doesn’t count. That’s called ‘creative inspiration’ these days!

      As for kids… actually, this might be the perfect time to take a much-deserved writing break, n’est pas? Come end of August, they’ll be back in school, and you’ll be totally raring to get back to writing.

  3. “Give Yourself Permission Not to Write” – sounds useless at the first glance, but when I thought about it carefully, it was the most brilliant advice in my life. With this phrase, I was able to throw off such a huge load that is difficult to imagine. “All genius things – is very simple.” Thank you for a great article James.

    • You’re very welcome, and I agree – sounds almost… well, useless is a good word, isn’t it? But sometimes the simplest solutions are the very best, and this particular one works literal wonders,

  4. Anthony says:

    Hi James

    I loved your approach to this topic,
    as I’ve often been found myself in a hole without inspiration, unable to write myself out.
    Consequently time gets less-than-usefully used, and I get irritable and eat chocolate.

    My instinctive reaction is NOT quit for a break, either, as that would only wake up the ‘don’t waste time loafing about’ guilty-conscience birdie who takes great pleasure nattering into my mind about ‘poor productivity’.

    And you’re right. Not worrying is the best policy.

    The approach I take to get going again is to get onto something else entirely, like a new guest post concept. And there’s a thought.
    (Makes a note for self for the morning.)

    Definitely going to bank the one about high intelligence. I knew writer’s block wasn’t all bad!


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