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Overcoming writer’s block: A mental health writer’s perspective

Writer’s block. The bane to every budding and aspiring writer. As someone who has been writing for 5 years, the experience is one that I’m all too familiar with. Nothing is worse than waking up in the morning, showing up at work only to realize you can’t find the words in you to write away. It’s like a brain fog, it stays with you and you never know when it’s going to lift off. Moments like this make my stomach turn and it deeply upsets me knowing I can’t find it in me to churn out the words that I need to get going. After a period of time, that block starts spiraling into a series of self-procrastinating behaviors that results in more horrible moments that include questioning my worth as a writer.

Even now as I write this, there’s a part of me that suffers from a modicum of writer’s block. I had a mental script in my head that would have made the perfect opening, I knew the exact words I was going to put down in this blank white space. Yet when I start typing away, the words and sentences feel distant and elusive. I can only surmise that I was thinking about something else, perhaps my tendency to overthink has come between my choices of words. Naturally, when my employers suggested me to contribute a piece on writer’s block to the LinkedIn News team, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chime in.

It happens to all of us

The first thing you should know about writer’s block is it happens to everyone. It affects writers of all kinds, including but not limited to lyricists, composers, big-time authors and musical artists, even researchers. And if you’re anything like me, someone who runs on creative juices and depends on a momentum to get going, you would understand just how disruptive writer’s block can be. However, a writer’s block isn’t something for you to dread. Quite the opposite. It is a reminder for you to slow down and take a break. It’s a sign that you’ve completely depleted your mental resources and you are in need of a recharge.

There’s a reason why famous musical artists like Adele goes on a 5-year hiatus after every album release, a well-known habit of hers that’s turned into an internet meme among her fans. Even big names like J.K. Rowling takes an extended period of break to rejuvenate and recuperate after releasing every new book. The simple fact is you need to stop working for a while and allow yourself to regain composure. If you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut, move away for an hour or two and revisit your work later. Sometimes, all it takes is a fresh new perspective and a change in angle to arrive at a new discovery.

Write as if no one is reading

Have you ever wondered why most of us no longer write as creatively or as well compared to our younger selves? It’s simply because we have been told to “tone it down” and “rephrase” our writings over and over again, to the point we have lost our personal flair. Criticisms are one of the biggest reasons we no longer allow ourselves to write freely, creatively and without fear of judgment. We are constantly told everything that is wrong in our writing, and we’ve been “criticized” to the point of fearing rejection. Other times, we are told to take it down a notch for being overly “bombastic”, “loquacious” or “strong.”

Well, I am here to tell you to write as if no one is reading. Go crazy, be as bombastic and bold with your words. Go dig out the biggest vocabulary you can retrieve from your mental library and put it in writing. If it ends up getting rejected for being too “colorful”, at least you have managed to exercise your memory and learn to apply it in writing, and you can use the word for another occasion. Stop overthinking and start writing.

Learn to be comfortable with rejection and criticisms

Take pride in your writing, but learn to embrace rejection if it ever comes to that. Alas, the sad part about writing for someone else is you’re bound to a set of restrictions and limitations. You may think you’ve given 120% in your latest piece and you are proud of what you’ve written, but your employers may feel differently about the end product.

It’s not that your employers do not recognize your worth or the effort that you’ve put forth, but that they have a certain tone and image they need to portray across. It happens all the time, writers are asked to amend their work to better fit the tone that clients are looking for. Amendments and rejection of your work does not, however, speak of your writing ability, nor does it reflect your aptitude as a writer. The same applies to criticisms and feedback. It’s all part of the business, and that’s all there really is to it.

Seek creative control

Many writers aspire to have creative control in their line of work, because having creative control means having a say in the contents you get to produce and write. However, the road to seeking creative freedom is a long one that involves trust and compromising from time-to-time. To have creative freedom over your work, you must first prove to your employers that you are capable of delivering what is required of you with minimal supervision. Once you’ve demonstrated the capability to produce the desired results, creative freedom will follow suit, naturally. Note that having creative control does NOT mean that revisions and criticisms won’t happen, it simply means that your employer feels comfortable enough for you to take the reins but they will step in every now and then to monitor your progress.

Request personal ownership of your work

It is every writer’s dream to have their works published and be seen by the rest of the world. And while the work you produce will fall under your employer’s intellectual property, having your work credited and published under your name will keep you motivated. It is also an acknowledgement of your work and contribution to the company. In fact, the move is beneficial to both you and your employer for the following reasons:

1. It grants you greater creative control over your material

2. Your employers are not liable for any opinions or thoughts expressed in your

work, meaning more leeway in your writing style

3. There are lesser restrictions imposed on your work

4. It provides you with a platform to publish your work

5. It builds your credibility

In return, your work will help pave way for other writers to come forward to contribute their material to the company. Essentially, you’re creating a platform for both yourself and your employer to grow each other’s names, which opens up more doors for future opportunities and collaboration.

Challenge your editors

The one misconception that we have about editors is they are all-knowing and always in the right. This isn’t necessarily the case as I learned years later. Your editor’s job is to ensure that your work is error-free and reader-friendly, which isn’t the same as significantly altering the meaning of your work and greatly derailing the intended message. Many times, most editors make the faux pas of rewriting their writers’ work to the point of losing its original meaning. You as the writer know your work best, and it is ultimately down to you to educate your editors on the subject matter. Be open to the idea of challenging your editor and defending your work, you will be surprised at how little they may know about your work, and how willing they are to be corrected if their judgments have been proven wrong.

Let go of perfectionism

And go where the flow takes you. Writing is an ever changing process and it’s unlikely that you’ll follow the script that you have in mind all the way through. This is because different words spark different ideas and lead to different narratives. Going back to the drawing board is a part and parcel of the writing process and you shouldn’t feel bad for not sticking to the script. When I first started writing on this piece, I had an entirely different set of words, and points to go with. Even now as I am typing away, my points are constantly shifting. They may not necessarily be exact words and phrases that I intended, but the intended message remains the same and that’s okay.

Don’t believe everything your mind tells you

Every time your mind attempts to convince you that you are no in good shape to write, that’s simply your fear of failure and rejection that is talking to you. The key to writing and overcoming writer’s block is to continue writing even on days where you feel like nothing’s working. If you can’t bring yourself to write a full paragraph, try writing a sentence instead, and the next sentence and another sentence. Eventually, your mind begins to pick up the pace and roll with it. If you’ve tried walking away and revisiting the topic hours later only to find that it’s not helpful at all, try writing a few sentences instead. Put simply, it’s better to write something than to write nothing at all.

Never beat yourself up

One thing that I always tell myself after completing a piece is to shut off and take the rest of the day off if I can. Sure, the piece could have flowed better. The choices of words could have been more carefully thought after. But beating yourself up is no way to learn from the past. And trust me when I say that when you think your work feels rather flat, it’s really your mind that’s playing tricks on you and convincing you that you’ve done a rather bad job, when things couldn’t be any further from the truth. If you’ve gone as far as written pages after pages of words, you are far from being horrible. No, you’ve mustered everything you have in you to put forth your best work. That alone should speak for itself.

Start jotting down ideas right away

The last tip that I have for you to overcome writer’s block is to start writing away. Every time an idea comes to mind, you start recording it with whatever you have. Stuck in traffic and can’t write? Whip out your iPhone and leave a voice memo to yourself. In the middle of another brainstorming sesh and can’t afford to be distracted? Note down the keywords to help you recall details later. Have an epiphany and there’s a pen and notebook lying around? Start writing your ideas down. Ideas can come and go easily, which is why you need to capture it when it’s fresh in your mind. If you have your laptop with you, start writing away. Leave no moment to waste.

It gets better with experience…

The unfortunate truth about being a writer is your writer’s block will never go away. Much like the flu, it comes and goes whenever you’re not taking good care of yourself. The good news is like the flu, you can learn ways to prevent or safeguard yourself against it, and that starts with acceptance and compassion. Being well-rested is also a helpful way to ensure writer’s block doesn’t get to you. Establish a routine, make it a point to get a good rest every single day. Let go of your inhibitions, and you’ll find it easier to create sparks of ideas. Remember, write like no one’s reading.

Jason’s profile

Jason is a part-time writer at Global Health Connect, where he regularly contributes pieces ranging from workplace mental health to global health topics. In his free time, he gains his writing epiphanies from his shower sessions, or during a random drive at night. He also enjoys researching lesser-known social-workplace psychology topics and phenomena such as Quiet Firing or the effect that small talks have on job promotions, and is a huge advocate of work-life balance. When he’s not actively cooking up a writing piece in his mind, he’s off cooking up a storm in the kitchen instead, tuning into Lo-fis, hitting the iron weights at the gym, or geeking out about Marvel superheroes, like Scarlet Witch.

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