The Ultimate Guide to Conquering Fear and Getting Rid of the Writer’s Block
Nobody wakes up and says, “I have a thinking block.”
Hey there. A few days ago, I felt like I didn’t have anything to say. And then I just started writing and…well, wrote this. Mostly to myself, of course.
Let this be an example to you that you can always write something.
There’s no such thing as a “writer’s block” if you treat writing right.
You can also read this post in the Medium app.
Some days feel like crap. For no apparent reason.
You wake up, and you think it’s going to be good.
You have lots of energy. You go for a run, have a hearty breakfast, deal with email, talk to other people.
Everything is pointing towards a great day.
Then you sit down to write. And it just doesn’t go. And then you don’t go anywhere.
You feel stuck. You start to think you’ve run out of things to say. You feel as if you don’t have any more “content” in you and that you’re not talented and oh-my-god-why-did-i-even-become-a-writer?
You feel like an impostor. You tricked people. You said you were a writer, and here you are, sitting like a little girl, crying (or being angry) because you can’t come up with new stuff.
The key here to realize is that most of what you feel is a lie. You’re not lost. You’re not a loser. You don’t lack talent. You’re OK. It’s all part of the creative process.
All you are right now is scared. You’re blocked. Because that’s what a “writer’s block” is — fear.
And it’s full of shit.
THINGS FEAR SAYS TO YOU
Everything you do sucks.
There is no point in keep doing what you’ve started.
You’re going to die broke.
Your girlfriend will leave you.
Your family will regret having made you.
Everyone else is better than you. (This is easy to prove. Go on Medium’s home page and see how many claps the top writers have.)
Everyone else looks better than you. (Even easier. Go on Instagram or flip through Glamour or Men’s Health magazines.)
You need to be in “the zone” to make something good. You need to get inspired, motivated, uplifted “in the mood.”
You shouldn’t believe any of that. As I said, fear is full of shit.
TWO THINGS THAT HELP ME AVOID BEING STUCK
First, I remind myself that there’s no such thing as a “writer’s block.”
Writing is not something holy that only older men with white beards get to do when Zeus hits them on the head with a broomstick. No. Writing is easy.
It’s just like talking or thinking. If you can, think you can write. If you can say “hello,” you can write “hello.”
Nobody wakes up and says, “I have a thinking block. I can’t think today. I’ll just be an oyster and react at whatever comes my way.”
The “block” was invented during the Renaissance when one person — the creator, the writer, the genius — became at the center of things. Before that, people believed that you were not the one creating art.
Your inner genius was. (The noun “genius,” not the adjective.) Your genius used to be a separate entity, and you had no control over it.
It was the house-elf that lived next to the creator and whispered things for you to write. You weren’t getting all the credit if things went well (after all, it was a partnership), but you also weren’t getting all the blame if things went south. (Your genius was just drunk last night.)
Elizebeth Gilbert talks about this concept here.
The block appeared when people became too self-centered. We started expecting too much out of ourselves.
No wonder we get blocked: as new writers, we expect ourselves to write like Hemingway. Or Seth Godin. Or whoever you admire.
But your block is an illusion. And so is the idea that to write, you need to be in a particular state. Again — it’s just like talking: you just sit down and write. Whatever. If you don’t like what you write, you don’t internalize it. Your genius is in a bad mood today, and you can try again tomorrow.
But you can still write something today even if that “something” is complete shit.
Second, I use mental models to help me fight fear.
There are two things I tell myself:
That I should write for myself, meaning, when I write, I talk to myself. I say things I care about, and I say something I need to hear. I love myself, and I want the very best for myself. Hence, if I just say things to myself that I want to say, I’ll also be creating useful content for others. Win-win.
I should write to someone else. But there’s still an audience watching. I am performing. (And not in a toilet.) But you can’t perform for “everybody.” It’s much better to imagine someone sitting in the front row watching. Someone you love. Someone who supports you. When I write, I imagine as if I am speaking to a stadium full of 5,400 people, and Angelina Fokina is sitting in the front row. I am doing this for her.
This stuff works like magic.
First, you start to create good content. And by “good,” I mean something you’re proud of because you write for yourself. (Isn’t that the goal?) You won’t write for yourself, something you don’t like.
And second, by thinking of one person you’d love to write for, you empathize with a real human being, and it gives you a pleasant feeling of support.
“But, won’t I create something too specific if I write for myself or just one person?” you might ask.
Yes! And that’s precisely the point.
CREATE FOR THE AUDIENCE OF ONE
Srinivas Rao has a book that’s called “The Audience Of One.” He talks about how to create good art for many; you’ve got to start with yourself first.
Be specific enough and you’ll touch the hearts of many.
If you broadcast something vague, something for “everybody” — you’ll just end up reaching nobody.
But if, on the other hand, you’ll connect with someone on a deep level — you’ll create a difference.
Yes, some people will look at your writing and say, “Jeez, that’s not for me. I don’t become afraid. Ever. I am Spiderman.”
But others — people like you — will resonate. And that’s who you’re creating for.
You don’t need to create for everybody to feel the love, have the money, and anything you want. You need to create for somebody who will love your art enough to share it with more people like you. Being loved by somebody automatically means being hated for somebody.
This is why I love saying controversial things from time to time. Like, “don’t pay your credit card debt.” I purposefully get rid of people who don’t get me. Then I am left with the people who do.
And finally, creating for yourself is not a choice you make every Tuesday. It’s ALWAYS the best option.
When you write for yourself, you create something useful. You have “the work.” And even if you don’t get paid for it — you’re still left with the feeling of satisfaction and pride that you’ve done it. You nailed it. You’re the boss.
On the other hand, if you just create for the money, you might not get the money. Something might happen. The producer might die. Medium might shut down. Whatever. And then you’re left with nothing.
So don’t create just for the money. Don’t create for everybody. Do it for yourself — or a girl. Or a boy. Do it for the audience of one.
But I lied.
There is one other thing you need to know to help you get through the fear, insecurity, and “the block.”
THERE ARE NO RULES. GO NUTS.
I was such an idiot when I started writing on Medium.
But then, you always are when you start anything. It’s a good sign you’re doing something new, uncomfortable, and that you grow. Which is to say, be an idiot.
I was an idiot because I looked for patterns. I thought there’s a certainway in which people with large followings write — and that this is why they are successful.
I burned through the days looking for the “right” article length, use of formatting features, pull quotes, whether they start with a story or not, so on, so forth. At one point, I tried copying Shannon Ashley because I simply loved the way she wrote and connected with people.
But somewhere in my 9th month of daily writing, it hit me.
There aren’t any rules. People become successful because they ‘somehow’ become successful.
Liz Gilbert said it best when she compared becoming a successful writer to renting a cheap apartment in Manhattan. It’s impossible. Yet, people still manage to do this every year. (Liz herself became a successful writer and once rented a cheap apartment in New York City.)
But we never truly know, right? Maybe there are specific rules for becoming a successful writer. Perhaps I am an idiot, after all.
So let’s imagine for a second that there are rules to what kind of articles you should write. There are certain things you must say (and others not to say), how many H1 or H2 headlines to use, how to promote your articles, so on.
Would you enjoy writing then? Being a replica of every blogger out there?
The key to succeeding in the arts is not to fit a category, but to become one. (I guess this applies to almost everything except investment banking.) To become an adjective. To have other writers compared to you.
Yes, you might not be the “biggest” blogger out there if you are your weird self, but you’ll be the only one like it.
That’s the way to be remembered.
And the only way to do so is to relax. To be yourself. To let go of fear and allow your real personality to shine. Even if you’re like me. Weird.
We often get blocks because we’re expecting too much of ourselves.
We get blocked when there’s not enough play, experimentation, not enough “us” in what we’re doing.
When we let go of any rules — and switch to what John Cleese called the “open mode” — the block suddenly disappears. And so does the fear.
You suddenly notice your hands do something weird. Something that hasn’t been done before. You get palpitations. A part of you thinks, “Omg, what will Josh think about this?”
And that’s a symptom that you’re connecting. You’re finally vulnerable. You’re creating something meaningful.
A FINAL WORD ON CREATING ART
OK. So this piece is an example of what I mean.
I didn’t intend to write it. I sat down in my apartment to write something — and then I couldn’t make myself write anything. I felt scared, uncomfortable, blocked. Then I went outside and sat down in a cafe. I opened my laptop. And I tried to come up with something “interesting” to write about to get claps, followers, what have you…
But then I felt that I’d be full of shit. I didn’t want to write something “interesting.” I wanted to write the truth. I wanted to be vulnerable.
So I just started talking to myself. This article is the result.
The last point I want to leave you with today is what I tweeted about yesterday.
Creating anything — being an artist — is all about connection. You can’t connect while thinking about what you’ll get from the transaction. This is why you can’t write anything decent if your sole focus is money.
Charles Bukowski said, “Too many writers write for the wrong reasons. They try too much.”
Be vulnerable. Be scared. Connect. Be an honest creative.
And this is the ultimate “hack” to getting rid of the block.
In case you’ve missed:
Just Focus On The Process (When you let go of metrics and focus on mastery, you become so good they can’t ignore you.)
12 Rules For Writing Blogs, Books, And Anything At All (Be a category and write listicles.)
Productivity Is For Bees and Robots (Why you can say ‘fuck you’ to productivity.)