Overcoming Writer’s Block
By Faith McDonald
Last winter, at the nearly-complete point of a writing project I’d been working on, my enthusiasm waned. The effort required to complete the manuscript and send it for publication evaded me. The remaining work seemed tedious and overwhelming.
Self-talk that surfaced—uninvited—nudged me to believe that the completed story wouldn’t attract readers or make a difference for anyone in the world.
My doubts about the value of the project grew when I recalled a trusted editor’s caution, “When the writer has to dredge up enthusiasm for a story, the reader often feels lukewarm about the result.”
I almost concluded that my project was taking too long. I feared that forcing the manuscript to completion would lead to an inferior book.
But then I remembered the feeling I had a few years ago after dragging my feet along mile eight of the Pittsburgh half-marathon. I had trained. I was running with a friend—not for a record of any sort, just to complete. I hit mile eight, grew tired of putting one foot in front of the other, and considered collapsing in fatigue on the side of the road.
However, as they say, I dug deep and dredged up the determination to shuffle on. As I subsequently plodded through mile nine, I began to believe I could finish the race. A few miles later, I crossed the finish line.
Every runner who crossed the finish line was handed a foil blanket and as I pulled mine around my shoulders, I felt steeped in success.
While I didn’t set any records, the act of completing a task I’d started made a difference for me, and I wanted that satisfaction for my writing project, too.
Maybe, like me, you have a writing project that has stalled. Try these tips to find new energy:
- Set aside time to focus on the project: I treated myself to a writer retreat. Hauling my writing supplies, I traveled to an inn set in one of Pennsylvania’s state parks.
- Use the power of new places to focus on important aspects of the project:
The available workspaces and the natural beauty that surround the inn facilitated each remaining step in my writing process.
The first morning, I sat in my room with my armchair facing a lake. Frigid air caused wisps of steam to rise from the lake’s smooth surface. On the other side of the lake, a tree-covered mountain unfurled across the skyline. That day, snow and ice clung to tree branches and when the sun broke through, shimmering sequins covered the hillside.
The beauty inspired my work. Feelings of appreciation and awe loosened the shackles of requirement that had stilted my writing. I felt released to daydream and sketch a tentative schedule for completing my project. My original excitement for the story returned.
In early afternoon, I moved to the inn’s Great Room. A fire burned in the fireplace. Coffee, tea, and chocolate-peanut butter bars were available on a sideboard. I placed my laptop, notebook, pencil, coffee cup and snack on a table that faced the lake. Feeling nourished by the environment, I sat down and drafted the incomplete portions of the manuscript.
In late afternoon, to edit, I moved to a first-floor lounge. The windows that extended from the floor to the inn’s second story let in soft, natural light. Outside, large snowflakes swirled and birds flitted by, pausing to feast at nearby feeders. Entertained and inspired by the birds’ activity, I worked diligently to reread my work and check that my sentences made sense.
- Include time for relaxation, play and prayer about how to move forward.
Between each part of the writing process, I took a long walk on trails that meandered through the woods near the inn. Walking gave me time to consider what I’d accomplished and think and pray about how to proceed with the next part of the project. Being in nature rejuvenated me.
- Reconnect with our creative God.
“We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work” (2 Timothy 1:9 MSG).
I knew in my heart that the only way to regain enthusiasm for the work, it was essential to tune into God’s purpose for it. He could reignite my passion for completing the project.
As I spent time in nature, he did just that. Near dusk one afternoon, as I walked in the woods, I rounded a turn and glimpsed a big buck grazing near a grove of trees. I crept forward to see him more closely and count the points on his antlers. I thanked our generous God for creation beauty. Joy trickled through me.
It’s so much easier to write when I’m filled with joy.
I found that setting the intention to write in a place where natural beauty is the only distraction eliminated procrastination and squelched my doubts about my writing project’s value.
I got so much done. I didn’t quite finish, but by devoting a chunk of time to the project, I gained momentum and a couple of weeks later, I completed the project and sent the manuscript for publication. Reader response has been enthusiastic.
What are your best tips for overcoming writer’s block?
Faith Tibbetts McDonald teaches writing at the Pennsylvania State University. She enjoys taking a long look at the Bible’s figurative language. Join her on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/faithtibbettsmcdonald where she posts word pictures straight from the Bible’s pages. These pictures will amp up your faith life and animate your relationship with God. Faith is the author of On the Loving End of Crazy—Finding Hope and Help to Face a Loved One’s Crippling Anxiety and Depression. Read more of her writing at faithmcdonald.com.