On Getting Focused | Issue 9
after writer's block
I’ve had a serious bout of writer’s block for the past year, and I’m finally excited to be writing again. It’s still hard, but I put a few things in place to make it easier.
I thought I would share some of the things that have been helping me in case they might help you.
These are not new or earth shattering, but finally putting them in place at the same time has been good for me.
1) Online Calendar. I’m using my Google calendar to organize my life. I now put writing times in my calendar the way I would for any other commitment or appointment. I got this idea from Jonathan Ball years ago but just started doing it last week. To make it visually appealing, I have created separate colour-coded calendars for different tasks such as main calendar for life stuff, events, writing to-dos, book project, newsletter, Watch Your Head, information, exercise, meditation, teaching, etc. This has helped my brain organize all the different things I have to do.
2) Accountability Partner. I work with an accountability partner three times a week for 1-2 hours. After a brief catch up on our lives, we state what we are working on, set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, and repeat as long as we are able. These meetings prevent me from scheduling anything else during this time, so each week I have between 4 and 5 hours of uninterrupted writing time. This is a wonderful and free way to show up for your writing and help someone else show up for theirs.
If you don’t have an accountability partner, try an online group. In my very first SMLTA newsletter, I interview Farzana Doctor and asked her about how she was dealing with writing during the pandemic. She started a Facebook Writing group called #WritingSprint which helped her (and others) with accountability and motivation. Read more from the interview here and join her group here.
If you missed Jamie Attenberg #1000WordsOfSummer don’t despair! She is doing a mini version in October. Sign up here.
Also I recently joined Clubhouse and will be hosting write-ins there starting in September. You can follow SMLTA on Clubhouse here.
3) Exercise. I’ve always been good at walking every day, but not so great with consistent working out or pushing myself because I have back issues (like most writers). This summer I started working out with a personal trainer who also does live Zoom classes, and for the first time in my life I’m exercising regularly. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since I started exercising regularly, my writer’s block has dissipated.
4) Meditation. I know meditation is the broccoli of wellness, but I love broccoli and meditation! New to me is mediating before I write. It is grounding and helps me focus.
5) Morning Pages. Morning pages work well for me, but since I’m not always able to do them on my own, I make sure I do them when I meet my accountability partner. That way if I don’t get to it the other days of the week, I know I will do morning pages at least three times a week.
What are morning pages?
Morning pages are 30 or so minutes of stream-of consciousness writing or free writing or mental dump writing — whatever you want to call it — that you do first thing in the morning (ideally). During this time, you just write everything that comes to mind. This is not artful or pretty writing. You are not working on your writing projects. Some use it a pre-writing ritual. Morning pages often consist of the negative thoughts that have been swimming around our minds that we may be ruminating on. Writing them gets them onto the page and out of our head. It feels great after you do it. The concept was developed by Julia Cameron in the 1970s and has been studied extensively by psychologists. I find it really helps with focus, stops rumination, and I often get ideas about my writing projects (although productivity is not the point). Give it a try!
6) Talking About It, Initially I was embarrassed to have writer’s block. I used to say I didn’t believe in it and that if I don’t want to write, I don’t write. But I don’t think I had really experienced writer’s block to the extent that I have this past year. If I was ever stuck on an idea or storyline before, I had always been able to get unstuck. Being completely blocked in your writing is like having full-on constipation!
I’ve started talking to other writers about it and hearing their stories. So dealing with it has made it better!
7) Get Your Blood Tested. Lack of focus can also symptom of a nutritional deficiency. Turns out I was low a couple of things that can impact concentration. It’s a good idea to make sure that what your feeling is indeed writer’s block and not something else. So talk to your doctor!
8) Recognize Burnout. Isabella Wang Tweeted this the other day, and it really resonated with me.
What if all along I’ve been suffering burnout and not writer’s block?
A possibility. For sure!
How about you?
Have you been struggling with your writing during the pandemic? If so, how have you been coping with it?
Kathryn Mockler is a writer, screenwriter, experimental filmmaker, editor, and publisher. She co-edited the print anthology Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Coach House Books, 2020) and is the publisher of the Watch Your Head website. Her films have screened at TIFF, EMFA, the Palm Springs Film Festival. Her debut collection of stories is forthcoming from Book*hug in 2023, and she is an Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at the University of Victoria.
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