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!

Writer’s Block: Self Sabotage

The Saboteur

Self sabotaging is a normal occurrence, at least when it’s occasional. We’ve all put our foot in our mouth every now and again. What I want to take a look at is the cycle of self sabotaging. Carl Jung found that we have archetypes in our psyche that affect our daily lives. One of them happens to be the Saboteur.

Believe it or not, the Saboteur is actually a survival mechanism. Think of it as the wise grandmother that keeps photo albums and gives you advice that will keep you safe. Only, sometimes, that advice is outdated, and those photos are your most painful memories. Now, it’s important to state that the wise grandmother has her moments where she knows what she’s talking about. Remember that time you burned your hand and you learned not to touch things that glowed red? Useful. She flips to certain photos every time you’re at risk, whether it’s physical, emotional, or mental.

The good news is, when you become aware of the Saboteur, you can control it.

How do you become aware of it? By becoming self aware. Take a look at your actions. Take a look at what you do when you’re stressed, afraid, angry, or uncomfortable. Your reactions are probably (and quite normally) unhealthy.

When I have to confront someone about something they did that hurt me, I usually have to give myself a pep talk before I can confront them. It wasn’t always this way. I used to shy away from confrontation, and as a result, I taught people how to treat me by walking over me, taking me for granted, and using me.

Your saboteur as a map.

Photo by Don Ross III

When you put a spot light on your saboteur, you see it for what it really is. Fear. Your Saboteur needs not be your enemy. That’s not what it’s there for. ot only does it highlight your fears, it highlights the underlying problem and connection: Your self asteem.

Characteristics of genuinely low self esteem

  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety and emotional turmoil
  • Lack of social skills and self confidence. Depression and/or bouts of sadness
  • Less social conformity
  • Eating disorders
  • Inability to accept compliments
  • An Inability to see yourself ‘squarely’ – to be fair to yourself
  • Accentuating the negative
  • Exaggerated concern over what you imagine other people think
  • Self neglect
  • Treating yourself badly but NOT other people
  • Worrying whether you have treated others badly
  • Reluctance to take on challenges
  • Reluctance to put yourself first or anywhere.
  • Reluctance to trust your own opinion
  • Expecting little out of life for yourself.

The list came from this article, written by Mark Tyrrell, which you should definitely read.

Once you pinpoint exactly which parts in your life seem to be on repeat or lacking change, you can start changing with a goal in mind. Create a road map to success, using the once scary Saboteur as the navigator.

Thank Granny for her love and support, but tell her to put her photos away and get ready for scrap-booking new memories. It’s time to head into uncharted territories.

How does this connect to writing?

Every writer experiences some self sabotage from our lovely Saboteur. Even the greatest of writers find themselves questioning their authority to write such pieces. To write at all.

I mean, we’ve spent hundreds of hours planning, writing, rewriting, drafting our drafts, and for what? Who will want to read it? It’s not even original. The language is off, the characters aren’t developed enough, the plot isn’t strong enough…the…the saboteur has struck again!

Just like the exercise that pinpointed areas in your life where the saboteur ruled, you’ll want to do exercises to pinpoint areas in your writing life where the saboteur rules. All those unfinished drafts, the love of writing but having no publication under your belt, that blog you never started, or that story you keep revising endlessly. These are all parts where the saboteur shows itself.

You’re afraid of failure. If you never finish, you can never be rejected. If you never start the blog, you’ll never have to worry about it going unread. If you never let the story be as is, after you’re 1000000 revision, you’ll never had a reader who will dislike it.

Failure and rejection are a normal part of life, including your writing life. Others will have the same ideas, same issues with their writing early on (and even later on), same fears. It’s okay to be afraid of them, but it’s not okay to give up because of them.

Pinpoint the areas, and use your saboteur as a road map.

How does your Saboteur lie to you? How does it hold you back in your writing life? Let me know in the comments!

Routine: A writer’s best friend.

I try giving my toddler time to adjust to new activities. I give him a heads up, minutes in advance, that we are starting something else. Kids are well known for having trouble switching gears or their schedules being out of whack. That’s the one thing I hear a lot from pediatricians: stick to a routine. You risk melt-downs otherwise.

You probably get a bit irritated when you have a schedule and it’s not going as planned. We, as adults, are better at adapting than children are. We know life is chaotic and that we sometimes must go with the flow. Still, we find ourselves anxious at the thought of being late to work, or late to a doctor’s appointment. I have nightmares of being late. It’s one of my things.

Before I get into routines, I want to add that you need to allow yourself room for mistakes. Be kind to yourself. To make mistakes is to be human. (Even Superman and Superwoman made mistakes, too. It’s universal. See?)

Going back to neuroplasticity. Remember the hiking trail analogy? The more traveled it is, the better defined it is? Routines are just like that.

Let’s talk about the time is takes to form new routines and habits. Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, did a study that was published here in 2009. She took nearly 100 volunteers and recorded how long it took each one to form a new habit. Results were staggering.

First, it depends on an individual for the length of time before the habit sets in, but it took only 66 days for the habit to become automatic. It can take up to a year for a habit to set in, but again, it depends on who you are.

That probably made you a bit depressed. A whole year for me to show up every day to my writing space to form a habit? A whole year?! Look at it this way: what’s a year compared to something you want to do for the rest of your life? A routine makes you show up every day and get it done.

It’s not as overwhelming as it feels.

I’ve stated before that I have intense anxiety and fear. I have it about everything, small and large. Leaving my house to go into the backyard has been known to trigger it. Commitments are hard for me sometimes. I get invited places but don’t show up. Most of my friends understand—I do what I can and push myself at the right times.

But, I’m harder on myself more than anyone else. Writing is important to me, so how do I keep the commitment? I have a few factors, like writing space, relaxing, and exercise. The one that helps me the most, though, is keeping it in small doses.

I mentioned a book I bought before that mixed psychology and writing. It’s called Around the Writer’s Block and Rosanne Bane wrote it. You can check it out here. I fell in love with this book, as it combined two of my favorite subjects. Ms. Bane talks of 3 different routines to get into, and I’ll touch on all of them as they are all habits that help you as a writer.

Product Time: 15 minutes

Product time is your work time. It’s where you focus on your piece. This can be research, actual writing, brain storming, or any other part of the writing process. You only commit to 15 minutes, though.

That’s it. That’s the trick. You’re probably asking: 15 minutes? What in the world can be done in 15 minutes?

First, let me state that the commitment is only 15 minutes. You can certainly write longer (but you don’t have to). If you show up for Product Time 15 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, you’re on your way to forming a habit. Plus, the sense of accomplishment keeps you coming back!

Seriously, keep track of it. You’ll feel great about it.

My anxiety used to flare up when I thought about how much work I still had to do on my piece. It was bad. When I sat down at my desk, I did everything but focus on my novel. Queue limbic system hijacking. Often, when I entered my writing space with the time limit of 15 minutes, I couldn’t wait to get started.

At first it was hard, but after telling myself that the world wasn’t likely to end in the next 15 minutes, my creative cortex would shove my limbic system back into the passenger’s seat. (This is silly, but make sure you let your limbic system know how much you appreciate it, otherwise it’s like a toddler trying to get your attention. It’s relentless.)

I applied something I learned in therapy in the beginning of training my neural pathways for Product Time. Sit with the anxiety. The limbic system creates anxiety for a very good reason. I’ve stated before it’s important to have. It can save our lives. However, there is a time and place for limbic hijackings, and in our writing space isn’t one of them.

Sitting with anxiety and fears means that instead of pushing it away (which hardly ever is productive), you acknowledge it, but you push it gently into your peripheral view. With the car analogy, you can put it in the backseat with a seat belt. That’s letting it know that you appreciate it and value it, but you’re focusing on the road (your piece) right now.

Process Time:

Process time is creative play. It puts you in the right mindset for product time. Though you certainly don’t need to do Process Time before Product Time, I find that it helps me write.

Process Time works because it calms you. When you’re calm, your creative cortex takes a leisurely drive on back country roads. Two keys for Process Time: 1. Stick with your 15-minute time limit. 2. Go into it with no expectations.

Think about what you like to do. For me, I have a list of things I try to alternate, but I have favorites.

  • free writing
  • journalism
  • coloring
  • crafting
  • music (playing or listening)
  • day dreaming
  • dancing
  • going for walks
  • doing small adventures
  • reading
  • watching a movie
  • watching funny videos or looking at funny pictures
  • playing with my son
  • putting together puzzles

Process Time can be literally anything that makes you calm. No judgments here. You like skipping down the road? Go for it. Browsing shoes online? I hear there are some great deals. Reading fan-fic or blogs? That’s why you were taught to read.

Make Process Time a habit you do 5 to 6 times weekly.

Ms. Bane pointed out in her book that we can’t call it “play time” because it sounds…childish, for lack of a better term. I get that. Most adults have long-since been encouraged for play time. I find that’s a problem, especially for my mental health and my writing journey.

Check out this article here about the benefits of play for adults.

Self-Care

I feel as if Self-Care, the third habit to help writers, can also fall under Process Time.

Self-Care is self explanatory: Take care of yourself.

  • Listen to yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Exercise.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat right.
  • Be social.
  • Write your feelings in a journal.
  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Teach people how to treat you.
  • Teach yourself how to treat you.
  • Get outside.

Exercise and sleep are big ones. Exercise can get your creative juices flowing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an idea while on the stationary bike or taking a walk. They also help fight against depression, anxiety, and stress. Stick with your 15 minutes but go longer if you can. Don’t use Self-Care as an excuse not to write, though. You have time for it all.

Check out this website here for the amazing benefits exercise has on mental health. Huge shout out to Rosanne Bane for her book. Check out her site here and her book. This is an interesting blog that tells the benefits of routines as well as cites famous writer routines (as weird as they can be. No judging!).

Stay tuned for the next tip: Writing spaces.

Let me know in the comments how you do Product, Process, and Self-Care. Follow my blog if you want more free therapy (who doesn’t like that?).