How to Cure Writer’s Block and Never Stop Being Productive–EVER

Recently, I’ve had several people ask me how I’m able to get so much writing done.

I guess I understand why they’re asking me the question: I’m writing my novel, I maintain a professional blog, and I’m a freelance writer.  All of these three are full-time jobs within themselves, and to juggle all of them at once is no easy feat.

So, it makes sense that people want to know how I’m so productive.

I’m sure people also want to know because, like some of you, they’re haunted by this vicious monster:

WRITER’S BLOCK

In fact, writer’s block is probably the most written about subject in the online writing world.

It’s for this very reason that I generally avoid the topic of writer’s block all together. But it’s also a topic that I get asked about a lot.  So, it looks like sooner or later I had to write about this topic, right?

The Number One Cure For Writer’s Block

I guess it’s time for me to present to you my personal, one-step cure for writer’s block, and it’s actually a lot simpler than you think.

Ready?

Here it is:

DETACH YOURSELF FROM THE OUTCOME

Most of the time, when I can’t write, I know that it means I’ve attached myself to an outcome.

By outcome, I mean the “end product,” and by the “end product,” I mean the perfectly polished book resting on bookshelves and inside Kindles all over the world.

I believe that attachment to the outcome is the biggest thing that gets in the way of a writer becoming more productive.

Writers can get soooo focused on the end product that they become overwhelmed and panicked—and this leads them to not begin the work in the first place.

I’ve heard writers start a novel and declare that within a year—WITHIN A YEAR—they plan on being published.

Really? I mean, I’m not saying that it’s impossible—I’m certainly a believer that anything is possible—it’s just that I’m a little worried about the state of your mental health if you decide to pursue such an ambitious goal.

Because asking yourself to get your book done and published in a year—especially if it’s your first time around—is putting so much pressure on yourself that you might not even get started!

Giving yourself such an ambitious short-term goal might also make the wonderful process of writing your novel a nightmare—possibly worst than the worst 9-5 job you could ever imagine.

And wait—didn’t you start to write novels so you can actually enjoy your work? As opposed to having a heart palpitation every time your opened your laptop and desperately tried to outrun the clock as it kept ticking and ticking away?

Instead of torturing yourself, then, why don’t we take all of that pressure off of your shoulders?

Let’s just let go of what your book might be (or what it was) and simply be with your novel.  Simply be with your novel as it is—right now—and don’t ask for it to be anything more.

Did you all just release a collective sigh of relief?

I thought so.

See? Aren’t you more eager to write today now that you don’t feel it has to produce some grand result?

What Attachment Does To Your Novel

I recently took a month break from my novel. I’m glad I did, because when I returned to it, I immediately noticed the difference between the passages in which I was rushing the entire story—when I was attached to the outcome—and the passages in which I simply enjoyed the process for what it was—when I had detached myself from the outcome.

When I was pushing to create a “finished product,” I could see that this “attachment” attitude had strangled the passage by not allowing it to breathe. My attachments prevented the passage to become what it was meant to become gradually, not quickly.

As I read over my draft, I found sentences that had a razor-edged, robotic-like tightness.  I knew that when I wrote these sentences, I was really trying to force the story out as if I was squeezing all the toothpaste out of the tube all at once.

These “tight sentences” are not what I ever wanted my book to be like, but, of course, those sentences became that way because, when I wrote them, I allowed my attachment to the outcome take over the writing process.

And it was this attachment to an end product that had sucked the gorgeous nectar straight out of some of the passages in the book.

On the other hand, I was also able to recognize that there were several beautiful passages that flowed very nicely and captured the voice and style of the piece perfectly.

These passages, I could tell, were written without an attachment to an outcome. I could tell I was simply enjoying myself as I was writing them, and was allowing myself to postpone any hard edits for some time in the future, when the work was ready for that.

What Attachment Does To Your Life

The rule of detachment not only does wonders for your novel, but it also does wonders for you life.

You see, when we are attached to the outcome of things, we rush through life in a panic. We are grasping for awards, successes, and accolades we hope to get in the future; or we are attempting to resist potential punishments, consequences, or failures that we remembered receiving in the past.

And so when we grasp for what we think we want (or try to avoid what we think we don’t want), our life becomes constrained and tight like a rope. When we are attached to the outcome of every single endeavor, our life lacks its natural richness, flexibility, spontaneity, and fruitfulness—to put it more bluntly: it lacks its magic and power.

But, as soon we let go of our attachment to an outcome, we almost immediately begin to produce more work, and we may even begin to enjoy this producing.

When we detach from outcomes, we become more productive because there are no more feelings of fear or panic.

The fear, panic, stress, or pressure vanishes because we now know that the reward of writing is simply to write, and the reward of life is simply to be. So as long as we write, we’ve done good—and as long as we’ve lived, we’ve done even better.

Free Yourself From Writer’s Block

I have found that as soon as I detach from any need for my work to be more than what it currently is—I am freed. I am freed to get straight to the work and not delay.

I don’t demand that my work yield fabulous results, or be perfect. I don’t demand that my work fix my life, solve all my problems, and make me rich and famous by the end of the week, or month, or by the end of the year.

If I were to do that it would be so unreasonable and unfair—not just to me, but to my work. Most importantly, it would be unfair to my readers.

My readers deserve a book that isn’t rushed, that doesn’t always have its eye on the end result. My readers deserve a book that is rich and full, that develops gradually—and that was clearly a joy to be written, as it was a joy to be read.

This is key, because a reader can tell if you didn’t have fun writing what you wrote.

But if you keep attaching yourself to the outcome, you will continue to become more and more overwhelmed. You will continue to be blocked. You won’t get any work done, and worst of all, the work itself will suffer.

That’s because a great book requires you to be present to life’s true wonder, goodness and positivity. It requires you to let go of your attachments to future successes, or to past failures, and it requires you, most of all, to be present and live life with joy.

much love,

Ollin

(If this doesn’t work for you, you may have a more serious case of writer’s block; in which case I’d like to refer you to the most recommended book on the C2C:  Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way)

What do you do to get past your writer’s block? Please share with us in the comments below!

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53 comments on “How to Cure Writer’s Block and Never Stop Being Productive–EVER

  1. This idea of attaching yourself to the outcome is an interesting one. I think lofty goals *can* become paralyzing sometimes when you find yourself off-track.

    • Ollin says:

      This has just been my experience. As soon as I realized what worked, I kept doing it and have since increased my productivity. As soon as I get afraid to write, I simply detach myself from any outcome and just try to enjoy the process.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Loved this post….it’s just what I’m experiencing as I edit my novel. I’m dong it simply because I love the story, and that attitude has made all the difference in my enjoyment of the process.

    • Ollin says:

      You got it Suzanne! That’s a huge leap. I think when I began I did not realize that and I made some parts of writing a living hell. Haha. But now, I remember that if I have fun and love the process it truly shows in my writing.

  3. Hi Ollin,

    I really appreciate your take on writer’s block, especially the part about” letting your story be what it currently is” and not trying to rush it. Your post reminds me of a quote I heard:”Being a writer is like having an assignment every day of your life for the rest of your life” For me, it depends on the day how I take that-could be good stress or bad stress. And when writing makes life more stressful,it’s time to take a break, like you did and it seemed you returned with new eyes. I think our stories begin to tell themselves if we just step back and let the process unfold. I couldn’t agree with you more that focus on the outcome is self-defeating.
    Thanks for another great post with lots of food for thought here on a universal topic for all writers.

    Kathy

    • Ollin says:

      Kathy, I used to think you had to write non-stop like a robot.

      But it just doesn’t work that way. You really need LONG breaks. It does wonders for your ability to be objective. Yes, you return with fresh eyes and things become more clear.

      Revision is so much easier this way.

  4. Ollin, You are very wise for a “youngster”!🙂 I love your blog and have learned so much in my brief visit. I will be back! and passing it along to my writer’s group on FB.

    • Ollin says:

      Hey Dorothy,

      I’m glad you love my blog! Thanks for sticking with me, supporting me, and sharing me with your friends!

  5. Conor Ebbs says:

    Hey Ollin,

    A valuable take on a very common complaint.

    I think you are spot on. If your goal each time you write is perfect prose, profound passages, and mesmerising metaphors, you are in for some serious disappointment.

    Writer’s block, as far I have seen, is not a block on writing per say, but a block on creating something wonderful. By letting go of the outcome, as you say, you just sit down, breathe, and let the words do the weaving.

    Conor

  6. Good point about detachment from the outcome! I’ve been more successful at detachment this time (working on a second novel), and it’s amazing how much more productive I’ve been, free of worry or care about whether its good or bad. I’ll worry about that when edits come, and even then, we still need a certain amount of detachment. How a reader reacts to a story is out of our hands.

  7. Christina says:

    Hi Ollin:)

    This is another great post that mirrors what you said in a recent post about building great things piece by piece, word by word. By thinking small, or in this case thinking in terms of what brings you joy and fun, all the external pressures seem less intimidating.

    I also found that sometimes you need to take a break and then return:)

  8. kaleba says:

    Oh, Ollin, I so needed to hear this. Thank you!

    I chalk my writers block up to fear, but stated the way you have, I see now that it’s fear in the form of attachment to the outcome.

    I’m going to work really hard on this. I want so much to make a living writing, but unless I can get over my fear (attachment to outcome) then I’m doomed.

    Thank you, again, so much, for providing an insight to myself that I didn’t even know was there.

    • Ollin says:

      You’re welcome! Detachment is incredibly difficult, and it takes time, so go easy on yourself.

      It’s also a constant practice. I always have to remind myself to detach. But bringing it to your awareness is always the first and most important step. I’m glad to be of service!

  9. Awesome post. I think being attached to an outcome (even subconsciously, even thinking things like, “Is this story marketable? Will agents like this? Will this book be popular enough?”) creates fear which creates resistance, which is really what we feel when we talk about writer’s block. 99% of the time, I believe writer’s block is a cover for being afraid to do the thing you have to do– write. I just don’t buy the idea that one can be completely out of writing juice. I see writer’s block as a convenient way to say “I’m scared shitless about starting this project/finishing this project/selling this project/screwing up this project/making a fool of myself with this project/failing at this project, etc.” At least for me, that’s the way it is! I’m starting to see this fear as my compass. If it’s scary, it has to be done. It’s all a mind game when you come down to it!

    • Ollin says:

      I’m not sure If I agree that writer’s block is a “cover” for fear. It is fear. We don’t write because we are afraid, because we fear we we will fail, succeed, run out of ideas, etc. But if you detach yourself from wanting your writing to do anything for you in the future, then you can write with ease, because you can’t be afraid if all you expect to do is write, and not expect anything else.

  10. What about a writer who writes articles for a website–or even a blogger who blogs like on this site? Is it possible not to be attached to an outcome when there are deadlines and the necessity to provide valuable information, which will drive traffic or readership? Or am I crossing over into another type of writing from what you refer to in this post?

    Thanks, Gina

    • Ollin says:

      Yes. It’s possible. I do freelance writing and ghostwriting (for money – as in its my job) and I apply the same exact concept. The work comes out so much better when I approach it this way, and I get it done more quickly. So yes, it can be applied in an arena of writing where the pressure and responsibility may be felt more strongly.

  11. Right on! Great advice🙂

  12. Good advice, and demonstrably you’re a source to be trusted on the subject. Personally, best advice I’ve ever seen for Writer’s Block was simplistically brilliant: Write anyway!

    • Ollin says:

      True, but for some people it’s not so simple. At least that’s what they tell me. I hope this advice helps them. Thanks!

  13. wordblind says:

    Nice to read this, good advice. It’s exactly what I’ve started to do in the last month or so, and it does seem to work. Gone as far as putting away the computer (to stop that editing part coming out, where I continually edit and prevent the moving on bit happening) and switched to pen and paper. Know where the story’s got to get to, don’t care how it gets there. No plan what I’m going to write from one day to the next. But, finding that, with only an hour a day, I’m getting about 1200 words down – and it’s all down to that relax, dude, don’t sweat, attitude. This way, I’ve got to that 60,000 word mark in no time at all. The story’s taking shape, it’s all locking into place, and that first draft is a long way to done. For me it’s all about getting that first draft out. Once that’s done I can let the editing instinct take over, kill a few darlings along the way, tighten up, refactor…yeah, I enjoy that bit.

  14. Kris says:

    You are a genius. Adding you to my favorite blogs RIGHT NOW!

  15. erikamarks says:

    A great post, Ollin–with a truly original and thoughtful way of seeing and confronting, not only writer’s block, but how we treat our manuscripts as we are writing. There are so many times I’ve found myself barreling toward the end, toward the outcome, that my scenes/characters are thinned as a result.

  16. Krissy Brady says:

    Great post, as usual! I love your perspective on writer’s block. I find that writing in multiple genres helps me to keep writing, regardless of feeling “stuck” with a certain project. When I’m working on something completely different, it helps me to free my mind again, and I find more often than not I not only figure out why I was stuck, but I realize the solution to my problem. Multi-tasking with my writing has always been my surefire cure.🙂

  17. Hi Ollin,

    I am a writer myself and have had many bouts with what is normally called, “writer’s block.” I am also a transformational therapist and after a recent bout with this “malady,” I decided to delve deeper into it and realized the so-called block encompassed more than just aspects of writing. I have blogged about it in “is it writer’s block or writer’s detox?” I know that including links in comment posts is a common tactic to get more traffic and I myself don’t buy it. I am posting my blogsite here in the hope that people will learn to see that writer’s block and any block for that matter encompasses many aspects of one’s life. The blog is not monetized, and by and large it is just my way of sharing what I know. http://melismaticwriting.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/is-it-writers-block-could-it-be-a-writing-detox/

    thanks and all the best

  18. Elise says:

    I always seem to forget this one, yet I’ve had a mentor tell it to me before. “Would you keep writing if you never get published or acknowledged in any way?” This answer needs to be yes in order for my creative heart to be free to create.

    The Artist’s Way is a fantastic way to free you from writer’s block because it encouraged you to remember why you love art/writing/life in the first place.

    Thanks, Ollin!

  19. Thanks for some wise words that are just what I needed to refocus on the pleasure and process or writing without worrying over ever word and paragraph. Even when you know these things it is possible to get off track. This timely post actually made me feel refreshed.

  20. B.C. Young says:

    I have to disagree with you a little. You see, I don’t think it’s such a big deal to write a novel in a year. In fact, I think it isn’t ridiculous to write a novel in six months with self-publishing. Here’s why:

    1. I have a goal in writing where I shoot for 1000 words/day. Of course, I may have days where I miss that mark, so I make up for it. Keeping that pace I could write 365,000 words a year, or about 4 novels. Even if I miss that mark frequently, hitting it only a quarter of the time, that’s still 1 novel in a year.
    2. I have my story clearly in mind when I write. Before I sit down and do anything, I think about the characters, plot, setting and so forth. Then, I make notes on it all. Then I sit down to write. When you take those steps, the words tend to flow easily, with little writer’s block.
    3. Back to point 1, it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to type 1000 words. So an hour every day is not a lot of work. Of course, then you have the proofing and editing, so maybe that works out to another 30 minutes a day. That’s not a lot of work.

    Don’t let a one year, one novel goal get you down. It’s more than possible, even if you throw in a little writer’s block. What’s wrong with setting a goal? Giving yourself a deadline gives you incentive to get it done.

    • Ollin says:

      If you can pull that off you, sir, are a savant. I applaud you if you can accomplish such a feat. In fact, I would be quite pleased if you proved me wrong. To write a novel, self-publish it and have it be wildly successful within a year? That is genius, and I’d be the first to nominate you for any award that denotes geniuses. (I’m actually not being sarcastic when I say this.) But I would argue that, for most people, they are not so lucky as you. They have so much to juggle in their lives and to place more pressure on them by telling them they should get their novel done within a year, I believe, is very unnecessary stress. For many, these things take time. But if this is not so for you, that’s wonderful. If the pressure doesn’t bother you, and doesn’t block you, than it is very clear that this post was not necessary for you. You have no problem with writer’s block. That’s wonderful! And many congrats to you.

  21. B.C. Young says:

    Who said anything about it being successful? LOL

    I’ll admit, I haven’t written a novel…yet. However, this year alone in short stories and novelettes, I’ve written a total of approximately 72,500 words. That’s without doing my 1,000 word/day goal. I only started that recently. All of those words have been edited and self-published.

    If I can stay consistent for only an hour to two a day, I can do it. Believe me, I have other things to tend to like my job, family, home, and more. So it does get difficult. But my goal, like you and others I’m sure, is to make this my full time job, and this system keeps me going without many blocks.

    That’s the great thing I’ve learned about writing. Everyone has a different approach to it, and in the end, we all have to do what works for us.

    Side note: Something that works really well for me is writing my stories straight through without spell checking, grammar checking, or anything. After the story is complete, I go back and self-edit. This has sped up my writing process dramatically.

    • Ollin says:

      Ah, I see. And I agree with you about the idea of waiting for grammar edits to come at the end. Really helps you power through the work in a good way.

  22. Similar sentiments to the advice a friend gave me years ago: “Just keep writing …” He was spot on because subconsciously (and sometimes even consciously) I let go of the outcome and just get the words down. It doesn’t matter how rough they are so long as the gist make enough sense upon my return.

    It’s amazing how often one can look back on all those ‘little bursts of writing’ that were once just seeds but have since become integral to the story.

  23. I’m just starting to play golf, and your perspective on writing as a creative process in and of itself, applies similarly to playing a good round of golf. I am also a budding writer with some published articles and a small following and an audience that encourages me to continue down this path. In the same way that I approach my unfolding skills in the golf course, I do so with my writing. I keep my focus in the joy of each moment. I know I will arrive at the just reward of respective outcome(s) along the way because it is part and parcel of this endeavour. Finding my way to this path took me all of my 49 years! That, in itself is a major achievement. And, what lead me here, to my writing, is my passion and a God-given gift. So, I aim to continue down this path fuelled by these. and that is how I avoid a writer’s block. Many thanks for your article, and recommendation of J.C.’s book. All the best.

  24. […] Summer Rush… blegh. I have got to get myself motivated to work on that sucker again. I read this fascinating post a while back, and I think my problem is that I’m too intimidated by the whole of the project. […]

  25. blueghoul says:

    You mentioning the difference between all of those “tight” passages and the ones where you really could see where you just plain enjoyed the writing brought me back to my first novel. It was just like that. The parts that I just let go free and the ones that I had to force were worlds apart and I was thinking far, far too big, stressing myself out over it, getting so exhausted and tired of writing…I didn’t even know I was blocked.

    But just detaching yourself from it…That’s a brilliant idea, or at least a wonderful way to phrase it.

  26. Dear Ollin, what a fantastic post. I love your headline “detach yourself from the outcome”. I should really tatoo this onto my fingers, coz I so often hit just that particular “outcome-wall”.😦 Thx for sharing this with us! I just stumbled accross your blog, but loving it already..

  27. […] How to Cure Writer’s Block and Never Stop Being Productive—EVER “I guess it’s time for me to present to you my personal, one-step cure for writer’s block, and it’s actually a lot simpler than you think. […]

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