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This Is What Blocks Your Writing (And How To Bust Through)

picture of man kicking down wall Would You Like to Bust Through Your Writing Block?

You know what it feels like to have writer’s block, don’t you?

You sit in front of your computer and nothing happens. No ideas come. Your mind is a blank slate.

When you think of writer’s block, you think of nothingness – a void in which you can’t think at all, when you really need to think of something spectacular to write about.

What if I told you that the vast majority of the time, nothingness isn’t the problem?

In fact, what if I told you that the real problem you’re facing is the exact opposite of nothingness?

Up until now, there’s been no name for this phenomenon – but today, you and I are coining a phrase together… writer’s log jam.

More often than not, writer’s log jam is what’s really clogging your mind, freezing you in your tracks, and stopping you from giving life to your next great creation.

The good news is that you can beat writer’s log jam – but before you can fix the problem, you have to understand the nature of the beast.

How being jammed destroys your creativity

Although writer’s block and writer’s log jam both result in frustration and lack of progress, how they materialize is very different.

Imagine yourself sitting facing an open doorway. You’re waiting for a courier to walk through and deliver an idea to you so you can write about it.

With writer’s block, the courier never comes. The doorway remains empty. You wait, patiently at first – then not so patiently as time drags on – but nothing happens. Writer’s block is seen as the absence of ideas.

Writer’s log jam is the opposite side of the same coin. Picture yourself facing the same open doorway – still waiting for a courier to walk in and hand you an idea.

But instead of one courier coming through at a time… 100 or 1000 of them, each with a different idea, come rushing at the same moment.

Since it’s all happening at once, they’re all jammed into the doorway, clogging the opening and making it impassable.

Just like a log jam.

They’re all shouting their ideas at you, but you can’t make sense of any of it because of all the noise and chaos.

That’s writer’s log jam. This is what blocks your writing. It’s the inability to write because of too many influences, too much information, and too many different ideas banging against each other in your head.

The reason you’re too smart for your own good

You may know writer’s log jam by the terms over-stimulation or information overload, but whatever you call it, it’s destructive to your creativity.

In our digital age, information is abundant. At any given moment, you’re only a few swipes, taps or clicks away from more information than you could possibly consume. Or retain.

But you try, don’t you? Creative types like us writers love to read, research, curate, deconstruct, and analyze. It’s our curse. And our blessing.

If you’re someone who writes and creates, you crave information like a foodie craves junk food. And when there’s a limitless supply of what you crave, what usually happens? You over-indulge.

With information, over-indulging can lead to over-stimulation – writer’s log jam. With all the information you consume, you literally become too smart for your own good.

Fortunately, unlike in the case of a foodie, your craving can’t kill you. But it  can kill your creative process.

Sound physiological and psychological data link overstimulation with anxiety, confusion, helplessness, and even depression. If you’ve ever been stuck on what to write about, I’m sure you can relate to at least one of these emotions.

It’s likely that the real problem is that you’ve been exposed to too much information, too many ideas – too many stimuli. You have so many thoughts crashing together that you can’t make sense of them.

You have an abundance problem!

That’s something you can learn to live with, right? Especially if you know how to bust up that log jam.

7 effective ways to bust through writer’s log jam

When you’re overstimulated and experiencing what I call writer’s log jam, less stimulation can be extremely beneficial.

Here are 7 tips to reboot your brain and bust up that log jam.

1: Appreciate the problem

While no one likes being stuck, consider that having too many stimuli and too many thoughts is preferable to having none. Would you rather have too much money, time, shelter, food – or none at all?

Over-stimulation is frustrating, but it’s manageable and fixable. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for being fortunate enough to have too many ideas. That little shift in thinking may just help you straighten out the situation and find inspiration to push forward.

2: Log off

I’m as hyper-connected as anyone else. The idea of logging off, walking away and being completely unplugged terrifies me too. But you know what? The couple times a year when I do force myself to log off, shut down all my iDevices, and separate myself from tweets, likes and emails – I feel wonderful. Seriously – unplug for one day. Once your e-shakes go away, you’ll feel brand new.

3: Exercise

I know. Everyone tells you that exercise is the answer to every problem, right? Well, there are some really good reasons for that. According to the American Psychological Association, even moderate exercise has a positive effect on mood, lessening anxiety, providing a sense of accomplishment, and allowing your brain to deal better with stress. All these things could help to untangle a writer’s cluttered mind. Go get your sweat on!

4: See through other people’s eyes

Sometimes you need to call on a trusted ally to set you straight. I was recently feeling unproductive because I had several articles still in development that I expected to have already completed.

When I shared this anxiety with a friend, I was surprised at her response. She laughed at me and said, “Are you kidding? I’m amazed at your productivity. You’ve had two major guest posts go live this week, one the week before, and you have a new post live on your own blog!” As it turns out, I was being negative and looking at the situation all wrong. You may be, too.

Share your anxiety, frustration, and “stuckness” with trusted advisors and best buddies. They’ll either help you through it – or make you realize you may not even have a problem.

5: Vent on paper

Another common advice is to free write. This means to just start writing without regard to format, grammar or structure. Just write and write and write. But I’m going to suggest a twist on this one.

I want you to free write only about feeling stuck. Write about your emotions, why you think you’re stuck, and the ideas that you can’t seem to develop. Just dump all your thoughts and feelings about it onto the page. Complain, feel sorry for yourself, or blame someone else – but dump it all. Let all your frustration and negativity spill out through your writing.

At some point during the free writing session, you’ll either feel relieved because you vented – or you will have written the germ of a new idea that can help you move forward.

6: Trim your life – do less

Recently, Jon Morrow wrote a brilliant post that seemed like it was written just for me. But the more I think about it, there’s at least one insanely valuable takeaway in it for every writer. Namely – do less.

Whatever it is in your life that you hope to be excellent at (in our case, writing), you need to put in a significant amount of quality time thinking about it. Not sort-of thinking – but deeply intense, contemplative thinking.

You need to understand that to achieve excellence, you’re probably going to have to trim some things out of your life. This is a tough one, but it’s a bitter pill that both you and I are going to have to swallow to take that next step to significance.

7: Accept that different projects will have a different flow

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.”

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that sometimes you’re trying to push the river when you write. Just because your last piece flowed quickly and effortlessly doesn’t mean everything you write will flow at that speed. Accept that stuck is sometimes part of the creative process. As painful as it may be, let the river flow slowly if it needs to.

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

It’s time to blow a hole in your log jam

The next time you’re sitting in front of your computer pulling your hair out in clumps because you have no earthly idea how to proceed, stop and correctly assess the situation. Your problem likely isn’t the nothingness we normally associate with writer’s block.

You know what the real problem is. The abundance of information and ideas is causing writer’s log jam.

Use these seven tips to get back on track quickly, and get those great ideas flowing again.

Do you have any tips or tricks that help you when you feel jammed? Tell us about it in the comments.

About the author:

Gary Korisko is a battle-tested real-world sales pro. Download your free copy of his eBook, How to Influence All the Right People – a guide to breaking away from the herd. For more of Gary’s work, check out his blog Reboot Authentic.

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51 thoughts on “This Is What Blocks Your Writing (And How To Bust Through)”

  • Excellent advice and article, Gary.

    Exercising works.

    Meditation works too, even right in the middle of the day. If I’m stuck, I sit down and let everything go. Ten minutes of focusing on my breathing reboots my brain.
    Angela Booth recently posted..10 Easy Ways to Get More out of Your Business Blog TodayMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Another good tip, Angela – 10 minutes of meditating. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Lift.do (it’s also a smartphone app) – but it helps you track and change your habits. One of my daily lift to-do’s is “doing nothing for 10 minutes.” Meditation is a more mindful goal. I may have to change that.

      This is what I love about the conversations in the comments. I just got a tip! Thanks, Angela!

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful post! Now instead of questioning my own intentions I can just deal with log jam. I am trying to relax more, too. It will get done…end of story. Thank you.
    Jobi Harris recently posted..It’s All About Your Point of ViewMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      That’s the attitude to have, Jobi!

      You probably noticed most of the tips have to do with moving away from the problem or finding some quiet. There’s so much noise everywhere these days that sometimes we just need some space and peace to reset.

      Let me know how it goes for you!

  • Shelley says:

    Great tips! I actually vent on paper to clear my mind. It helps me to get to a blank state. My best trick is running. Running always clears my mind and gives me a different perspective.

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Hey Shelley!

      I’m an on-paper venter myself :) It really does help to see all that in black and white. Usually at some point I just stop. Not at the end of a thought or anything… but I just no longer feel the need to vent and I put it away. It is a good mind clearer for sure.

      Interesting that the first two comments mentioned exercise, too. I myself just got back from a quick bike ride. There’s something about a little sweat and an elevated heart rate that straightens me out mentally.

      Thanks for sharing that.

  • dana says:

    I actually don’t use a computer or typewriter to write, I write by hand. But, I find myself in the same situation constantly. Staring at a blank page. I’ll see something on the news or a program on t.v. and get a great idea, start doing research, jotting ideas down, tons of them and then go to my notebook and try to write and…nothing.
    I love this article. Hopefully, it will change the way I write and make me stand back and look at things differently.

    • Gary Korisko says:

      It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I hate that feeling.

      Do you outline before you begin the actual writing? I’ve found that a good “skeleton” outline when the new idea is still fresh really helps when it’s time to start writing.

      Tray the tips in this post, too Dana. And if I can help, please let me know!

  • Hi. Evan here.

    Being a social-personality psychologist and master procrastinator, and having read the data on overload and procrastination, it’s clear that this post is spot-on. And there are solutions.

    The author of Presentation Zen (a must-own book) says that another facet to this problem is that we’re doing an an analog activity—focusing deeply and thinking about what we want to write—using digital tools that should be employed only after the analog work is done. I.e., the computer is not the best place to compose your masterpiece.

    My personal solution was to get a Moleskine, a Fisher Space pen, sit down and think, and outline my thoughts, just as I did in High School when I had to write an essay. Keep the noise at bay, as it’s implicit that when you’re analog, you’ve shut off and out all the digital distractions. A NYT authored by a professional writer goes as far as to take her notebook outside, away from her work area. She said that the degree to which her work improved—quality, quantity, clarity—was a revelation.

    I hope this was helpful.

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Evan:

      Fantastic! I’m happy to have a psychologist back up this concept. It’s funny that you mention analog vs. digital. For a long time I’ve always said, “I think on paper – then I write on my PC” – meaning I get all my thoughts down and outline with a pen and paper… then start typing.

      I also *love* the idea of taking a notebook outside. That makes total sense based on everything else we’ve learned from this post and it’s ensuing conversation :)

      I’ll say it again — This is why I *LOVE* the comments section. There’s so much group learning going on!

      Thank you!

      • Thank YOU, Gary. I think there’s some truth to this the more I collect my own data, so to speak. We’re on our machines so much that we’ve forgotten some work is best done well with the machine off, which is what many bloggers counsel.

        The problem is, the author here makes light of how difficult it is to unplug working at home, alone. I’m not one of these types who stares at my cell in restaurants or especially not when the food has arrived. But it’s very difficult not to want to avail oneself of al the good tools out there that do practically everything.

        In the end, the digital/analog division is a useful distinction.

        Warmly,
        Evan

        • Gary Korisko says:

          It is really difficult to unplug. No doubt.

          I work remotely on my own and my connectivity is my livelihood, so I completely understand. But I think a lot of us could benefit greatly by taking this whole “unplug temporarily” tip to heart.

          Thanks again for your insights, Evan.

  • Magma says:

    Brilliant post. Hundreds of wolves at my door.

  • Great post! I’m a writer and librarian who works with online resources and social media, so I come across information overload in several different contexts. I’d never thought to articulate what you call writers’ log jam, but it’s an effective way to describe a very important problem.

    Logging off and exercising are two of my favorite steps to take to avoid the feeling. I also like to switch to a pen and paper if I have been typing and find other ways to radically change my writing environment. When I was in school, for example, I always had success when I ventured deep in the old university library bookstacks to write.
    Andrew Walsh recently posted..New Job and Some Other Professional UpdatesMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Andrew:

      You’re the second person who suggested moving locations to write. I’m starting to think there’s something to that :)

      Thank you for joining in!

  • Thank you, Gary. I really like this helpful list–especially tip number one.
    And even though I was already trying a lot of these solution, it’s good to now know why they work.

    Two I would add to the list are
    Building my self confidence
    Sometimes I begin to question my ability to the meet the challenge. When this happens, I find it helpful to look back on my past success.
    Streghthen my writing tools…
    I don’t mean sharpen my pencil. I mean leave the project, for a while, to work on something else. Every word I write makes me a better writer. And by working on a second project I can return to the first with new abilities that will help me solve the problem.
    Leanne Dyck recently posted..Knitting pattern: Summer Sunset CardiganMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Hi Leanne:

      I like the idea of reviewing past successes. Great tip – and I’m happy you found the post valuable.

  • Bobbi Emel says:

    This is an excellent point about logjam vs. writer’s block, Gary. I like Andrew’s technique of switching to pen and paper occasionally because that is something that can be really helpful for me! Also, when I’m having a logjam, I finally say to myself, “Just pick SOMETHING and go with it. You can always change it later if you need to.”
    Bobbi Emel recently posted..Tunnel vision? 5 ideas to help you see the lightMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      I really like Andrew’s idea, too. I also like that several people have brought up taking your pen and paper to a different location. I’m going to write outside tomorrow!

      There’s a lot to be said for doing *something* too. I have so many unfinished pieces that will (hopefully) turn into something. Activity trumps no activity every time.

      Thanks, Bobbi!

  • Jovell says:

    This is great to know when you sometimes doubt yourself why you can’t seem to put words to paper (or Word doc). Sometimes, I even think I should not be reading too much anymore because there’s a lot going on in my mind.

    Tip # 6 was spot on for me. And when you think about it, it applies for almost anything in our lives actually.

    Thanks for this post!
    Jovell recently posted..7 Shortcuts To Promoting Your Blog Posts EffectivelyMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      You know, recently I resolved to narrow my scope of influence. I still read everything I can get my hands on – but I have chosen to act on advice only from certain sources. So you may be on to something here with consuming more selectively.

      Thanks for bringing that up, Jovel!

  • Sarah says:

    Thank you for this article.

    I just realized that my current ailment wasn’t writer’s block but writer’s log jam instead. I’m an avid reader and entertain a wide range of genre. Reading has helped my writing over the years, it helped me develop my line of thinking and widened my vocabulary but as I read your article, I’ve realized there is such a thing as reading too much sometimes.

    Whenever I try to write a story, I get all these ideas but no specific route to thread. My head suddenly thinks of multiple disjointed plot lines that seem like great ideas but I have no idea how to use them all. But instead of disconnecting from the world, I do the exact opposite thinking that I lacked the proper inspiration when in truth I just have an abundance of it.

    So yeah, this article placed somethings in perspective for me. ^_^

  • Well said Gary! Now what if the problem is not ‘block’ but allowing distractions to come to you like social media? Aaargh.

    Anyways, I appreciate #6 best. Most writers are perfectionists but it seems like those who are streetsmart get away with their grammar and typo errors and succeed! Not to say, allow those errors. But in the end, you can only do so much!
    Rob Leonardo recently posted..Crucial Conversations Can Make Or BreakMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Hi Rob!

      Yeah – #6 is a tough on for ambitious people. And about grammar & punctuation – depending on what type of writing you do, the venue, and the audience – sometimes breaking a few rules plays pretty well.

      Thanks for speaking up, Rob.

  • Thanks, Gary, for sharing this interesting perspective on “writer’s block.” Another thing I do when I have too many ideas is create a monthly calendar and schedule to work on those other ideas a few months into the future. Somehow that seems to free up my mind and energy to continue working on the present tasks.
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..8 Tips for Dealing with Colorism in FamiliesMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      I’m jealous that you’re organized enough to do that, Sarah. I think a lot of us would benefit from forcing ourselves to schedule our time and projects better. Good suggestion!

  • Fantastic advice. My editor, Lorin Oberweber tells me that sometimes writer’s block happens when my scene’s off. Her advice is to look at it from a different angle or, in extreme cases, start it from scratch. That usually does the trick. Like rebooting the computer.
    keith yatsuhashi recently posted..Book Promotion! Vote for Kojiki’s Book Cover!!!My Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      I like Rebooting analogies (check out my blog and you’ll see why) :)

      Different angles do help – like getting one from a trusted advisor in point #4. Sometimes the problem is only perceived and sometimes, as your editor suggests, you need to re-work or start over.

      Thanks, Keith.

  • Yes! This! Thank you so much for clarifying what I run into. And for the excellent advice on how to deal with the logjam.

    • Gary Korisko says:

      You’re welcome. Come back and tell us how the tips from this post worked for you. Best of luck to you & thanks for joining in the conversation, madbad :)

  • Shalonda Spears says:

    Great tips, never thought about the opposite of writer’s block. Thanks for this information I can now approach the situation with a different view and get better results.

    • Gary Korisko says:

      I’d be interested to hear how looking at it from a different angle works for you, Shalonda. I’m glad you got something useful from the post!

  • Excellent post, Gary! Thank you so much because I really needed this tonight. I wrote all your headings down into a list in OneNote so that I could look at them again next time I need this. Like tomorrow. And the next day. It’s been happening to me a lot lately, so I plan to take action on what you said.

    You know, I saw a verse in the Bible this week that also struck me. Wise Solomon once wrote, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, NIV). Isn’t that the truth? I have been priding myself on using every spare moment to read and think, even carrying my journal and Kindle with me everywhere. I think I’m going to change that. Head outside you say? Sounds wonderful… :-)
    Anne Elliott recently posted..Why I’m Not Blogging MuchMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      That’s great, Anne. I agree with Solomon. Much study does weary the body. Let me know how “resetting” goes for you. It helps me quite a bit. Thanks!

  • Laura says:

    Brilliant article Gary and as usual some excellent advice. Like the reference to the research at APA.
    Ok, I’m off to exercise in the aid of getting my posts written ;))
    Laura recently posted..How to Silence Your Inner CriticMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Just got back from a little bike trip myself, Laura. Clears my mind every time :)

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • What? How did you untangle my brain so perfectly here? Are you a guru?
    This is tremendously helpful insight, and I’m grateful.
    Thanks.
    Bill Giovannetti recently posted..ChurchMy Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Ha. Thanks very much Bill, but no – no guru here. :)

      But I’m glad you found this useful & joined in the conversation. Best of luck to you!

  • Betsy Bennett says:

    I’m not sure about log jams, but when I have writer’s block, I deliberately make my character do something he/she would never do. She gets in the car on the dark, rainy night with the axe murderer. He chops his boss into little pieces. Once I’ve written what they would never do, it’s far easier to get back to writing what they would do. It’s very freeing. Deleting that stuff is easy (I don’t usually find deleting my writing easy), and I can find other ways for her to get where she’s going without getting in with the axe murderer, and him dealing with his boss more constructively. Sometimes the writing stays as thought process…if only I could chop him up in little pieces, but mostly it’s just an exercise to know my characters better.

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Hi Betsy:

      Interesting technique – and I’d say it’s at least akin to some of the tips above in that it’s a way to expel the “bad” thoughts to make room for the good.

      Great suggestion – thank you.

  • Great work, as usual, Gary.

    My favorite part was the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Six words that pretty much sum it all up.

    Back in high school and college I did some physical jobs (factory, sod farm, carpet cleaning) that wore me out. But nothing has ever exhausted me more than writing!

    • Gary Korisko says:

      Thanks, Mark.

      That’s a quote I try to keep in mind whenever I’m feeling temporarily stymied with my writing. It makes me feel like whatever struggle I’m going through is going to lead to something good.

      And i hear you about the “worn out” thing. I agree. Sometimes it just flows – and other times it really takes it out of you.

  • Fantastic tips, Gary!

    Keep ‘em coming! (My fav is #6: do less to ‘take that next step to significance’ – tricky to do, but still brilliant advice.)
    Kimberley Grabas recently posted..14 Things About Building a Blog Audience That You Think Are True (But Aren’t)My Profile

    • Gary Korisko says:

      It’s very tricky… and of all of them it’s the one I struggle with personally the most. But every time I do force myself to let go of a few things, it makes a difference.

      Thanks for stopping in, Kimberly!

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