I have a theory about writer’s block. It’s a theory that involves gremlins.
You sit down to write. And then this gremlin turns up. Just as you are about to type something the gremlin says something from this list.
What do you mean, you don’t know where this goes or what it’s going to be? You can’t just write. It has to have a purpose!
You need to read more before you can write anything about this. But you can’t read now because this is your writing time.
You can’t do data analysis in your writing time!
It’s a waste of time to write something you are just going to have to rewrite later.
Even if you do succeed in putting words on the page amidst all this gremlin panic, you probably end up deciding that it wasn’t really writing or it wasn’t a useful writing session or even that writing for a short period every day is just not worth it because you can’t do anything useful.
Send that gremlin for coffee
Seriously. If you don’t have more than one of them, someone else’s gremlin will be there. Let them go talk about you somewhere where you can’t hear them. They clearly have lots to talk about.
Close the door so they can’t come back.
Take a deep breath. Maybe 2 or 3.
Start your writing session with some more helpful questions
What project will you work on today? Pick one. (The first one that jumps out is fine.)
What does this writing project need to move forward? List everything that comes to mind even if it isn’t “writing”.
Anything on that list will move your writing project forward therefore anything on that list counts as writing. Anything.
Pick the thing you most want to do. Do that.
If you still have time left when you’re done, pick something else on the list.
How to finish your writing session
When your timer goes off to signal the end of your time, ask yourself the following 2 questions and take notes. You can put them right in your document if you like.
How did my project move forward?
If I could keep working on this project right now, what would I do next?
When the gremlins come back from coffee you can tell them the answers.
What a successful writing session might look like
You stared at the page pondering a tricky conceptual problem and then wrote 2 sentences but know now how to move forward from there.
You freewrote about something that’s been poking you and have a whole bunch of words on a page about it that you still aren’t sure what to do with.
You wrote an outline and have a clearer (if not totally clear) sense of where this project is going.
You reread your draft and then went for a walk. You now have a list of things to do in your next session.
You read the article you need to understand better in order to clarify that point on page 4.
You wrote a letter to the journal editor asking the status of the manuscript you submitted.
You went back and re-analysed some data to be sure you really could support that argument.
You wrote a task-list for your research assistant (RA) so you’ll have what you need when you get to the next stage of this process.
You wrote a job description so you can hire an RA to help you with this project.
You wrote 1600 words. (That one doesn’t happen very often, but it definitely turns up amongst those other ones.)
This is the approach we take in A Meeting With Your Writing. Click on the image to learn more and join us.