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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Did You Say You Have Writer’s Block? Watch Your Language!

You’re a writer; you know words have power. Words not only reflect reality, they create reality.

Using whatever word comes to mind is a good strategy for first drafts. When you rewrite, you select words carefully and intentionally.

But do you consciously select the words you use inside your own head? When was the last time you revised the language of your thoughts? Are there times when you should wash your mind out with soap?

Most of us don’t question the word choices that make up our thoughts. If we think it, it must be true.

First Thoughts Aren’t Always Accurate

If your first thought is “I’m tired” you assume that’s a description of how you feel. And if you’re tired, it makes sense to rest, to plop yourself on the couch and pick up a book or the remote control.

But if you realize that “tired” isn’t the best word to really describe how you feel, if you see that “lethargic” is a better word, you might decide that you need to move, to stretch, to avoid the couch and take a walk.

And if you further revise the second thought to a fresher description – “Ninety percent of my blood has settled in my butt!” – you recognize that moving is imperative.

From Maybe to Absolutely

As Hitler demonstrated with his Big Lie approach (tell a big enough lie often enough and people will believe it), the more we hear something, the truer it becomes. This is just as true of the words we hear in our own heads as it is of the words we read and hear in the world.

By sheer repetition you can move from “Maybe I’m blocked” to “I’m totally blocked.” Watch.

You get a great idea. Oh, that’s cool! I could really do something with that!

So you do some research. You know the information you’ve gathered has something to do with the idea you started with. I know there’s something there, but I can’t figure out exactly what to write.

You might try freewriting, brainstorming or mental prewriting, but exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it still eludes you.

Recognizing that you’re in Incubation is key here. If you think I’m incubating you’re likely to ask What can I do today to move myself through incubation? Your focus stays on the idea and what you can do to keep the creative process moving.

But if you think Maybe I’m blocked, you’re likely to follow that thought with If I’m blocked, I should step back. Let the idea percolate. You’re passive in this scenario because you think you might be blocked.

You wait a day. I wonder if I’ve figured what to do with that idea… Nope, still nothing. A couple of days of Nope, still nothing and you start thinking I’m must be blocked.

Then because you’re blocked, you avoid working on that idea and try to write something else. But chances are, with the insidious seed I might be blocked planted in your mind, you won’t have immediate brainstorms about anything.

Even if you do get a glimmer of an idea, you’ll be hyper-critical. That’s stupid. That’s awkward. That’s cliché. What’s wrong with me that I can’t even write one decent sentence? And now your Saboteur is doing your thinking. And Saboteur thoughts are always lies!

The problem with believing your own thoughts is that it’s so easy for your Saboteur to slither into control. Of course I’m blocked. I can’t write this. I can’t write anything. I’m an imposter. No one wants to hear what I have to say anyway. Why bother?

Don’t Believe Everything You See… or Think

Which line is longer?
The line on the right looks longer, but they’re actually the same length.

Optical illusions prove that our visual perceptions can be wrong even when we’re absolutely certain the perception is accurate. Just because you see something doesn’t mean that what you see is there.

Likewise, just because you think it, doesn’t make it true. Saboteur-talk in particular is more a brain malfunction than an accurate interpretation of reality.

You are best served by seeing your thoughts as a draft that may need rewriting.

You need to ask yourself from time to time Is that the best way to think about this? Is ‘blocked’ accurate? Is there a more accurate synonym? Maybe I’m not blocked, maybe I’m incubating. Or maybe I need something before I can move forward. What’s missing?

What’s missing? opens possibilities. I’m blocked closes possibility.

Which version will serve you better?

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2 Comments on “Did You Say You Have Writer’s Block? Watch Your Language!”

  1. Douglas April 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Excellent post! Very useful tips.

    Greetings from a brazilian reader who doesn’t miss a single post.


    • rosannebane April 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks Douglas! I’m glad to hear the tips are helpful and delighted to have such a loyal reader in Brazil!


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