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Yesterday I had about three minutes of conversation with a friend about the idea of "writer's block." I have pat answers for this kind of thing, canned responses I've used before, and will use again. "I don't believe in writer's block," I say, as if somehow believing in it is all that empowers it. But that's kind of a dodge, because I know that writer's block is very real, it's just not something I experience.

That's because I recognize what "writer's block" really is. And once I saw the reality of it, close up, I knew how to turn it off, like finally turning off an alarm clock instead of hitting snooze again and again.

Writer's block is indecision. You sit down with a pad and pen or, in my case, a laptop and a cup of coffee, and you look at the blank page and you get yourself all set to "write, dammit, write!" And then, you freeze. You can't decide what to write first. You can't decide if you should start on something you've outlined, down to nearly being a complete scene, or if you should take a slight turn, go down a different path. Blank pages are wide-open possibilities, after all. Anything can happen. The wonder of all creation is right there in front of you, dressed in white. 

The indecision comes from having the wrong goal. "I want to write a book" or "I want to write a short story" or "I want to write an article" or "I want to write a blog post" are all missing the vital, empowering, energizing second half of the statement: "... about X."

That variable will save your life. Knowing what comes after "about" will break the writer's block every time.

It sounds simple, but I know it isn't. Decisions are commitments, and everyone, especially a writer, hates a commitment. It means having to plan and having to follow through. It means living up, or facing all the days and nights that follow letting yourself and others down.

Scary stuff. Better to never start, we tend to think. And that creates a bit of cognitive dissonance — a conflict in our brains. Because we want to write. We want to create. But we're also telling ourselves "No, we don't want to commit to writing anything."

Effectively, we are committing to an unknown, and our brain freezes when that happens. It's like asking a computer to calculate Pi to the last digit — if you want any sort of answer at all you need to provide some kind of limit. Give me Pi to 10,000 digits and let's call that done.

If you want to overcome writer's block, or any other kind of indecision, the secret is to answer the "about." Determine that you will create X today. Give yourself that tiny little limit, instead of falling into the big, open, never-ending expanse of blank pages.

 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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