[Podcast] Rosanne Bane on How to Overcome Writer’s BlockMar 10, 2023
Do you feel an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety when you think about writing?
Do you blame yourself when you don’t write?
Do you feel lazy, unimaginative, or self-indulgent when you want to write but don’t?
Welcome to the world of writer’s block. Writer’s block—also known as writer’s resistance—plagues most writers at some point in their writing career. It can be debilitating. And frustrating. You have a desire to write but you don’t. Why?
According to Rosanne Bane, author of Around the Writer’s Block, the ‘why’ isn’t important. What matters is how you respond to writing resistance. That starts with understanding the science behind writer’s resistance.
The brain consists of three main areas: the brain stem, limbic system, and cortex. Your cortex is the logical part of your brain. It makes plans, executes bodily functions, decides your actions, and thinks logically and realistically. The cortex is the part of your brain that wants to write.
Your limbic system is the emotional part of the brain. It’s instinctive and reactive. It processes sensory information and determines your fight or flight response. Your limbic system cares about your safety and keeping you alive. And it’s the part of your brain that prevents you from writing.
Whenever we want to write but don’t, we blame ourselves. We call ourselves lazy or unimaginative; we feel guilty for not writing. But self-blame doesn’t solve the problem of wanting to write yet not writing. To overcome writer’s block, we must return to the brain.
Writer’s block stems from a limbic system takeover, typically a response to stress or a threatening situation. When your limbic system is in control, you’re operating from a fight-or-flight instinct. You may try to write. But you won’t write as creatively as you can when your cortex is in control. Luckily, the solution is simple: Calm your limbic system.
By calming the limbic system, you shift control back to the cortex, enabling you to write more creatively and effectively. It’s a simple fix. But not necessarily easy.
Create New Rituals; Create New Neural Pathways
The best way to calm your limbic system is to relax your body. Relaxation comes in many forms, usually through an activity that is soothing and enjoyable, and often familiar and safe. This is why Rosanne encourages writers to create their own rituals.
Rituals are familiar and reassuring. They provide security in the form of habit. And they create neural pathways.
A neural pathway is a “series of connected neurons that send signals from one part of the brain to another.” Neural pathways develop through routine. Routine through rituals is an effective way to calm the limbic system and revert control back to your cortex. Even more effective are rituals based on a sensory experience.
Here’s an example:
Person A sucks on a lemon drop whenever they want to feel relaxed. They have created a sensory experience that is calming to the limbic system. Now, Person A starts writing while they suck on a lemon drop. Person A has created a new neural pathway. (They connected the taste of lemon—and its calming effects—to writing.) Whenever Person A sucks on a lemon drop, the taste of lemon will fire the neural pathway that signals “I’m going to write.”
As Rosanne says, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Recognizing why you need a writing ritual is the first half to overcoming writer’s block.
“I’m Bad at Writing”
The second half to overcoming writer’s block is to adopt a ritual.
Jumping back to our science lesson: The brain has the compacity to heal itself and grow new neurons. This is called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity enables you to grow and adopt new habits, like writing. The more you realize you can write, the more you will do it.
Consider this: Your brain is a playground. Children are swinging on swings, sliding down slides, climbing the jungle gym. But what happens if you remove the jungle gym? The children will have to go elsewhere to play. Similarly, if you stop writing, your neurons wired for writing will go elsewhere. They’re no longer being used, so they’re no longer focused on writing.
To recover the capacity to write—to make writing a habit—you have to practice.
You have to be willing to puke out your garbage ideas on a page. You have to be willing to challenge yourself to write. You have to be willing to improve over time—and not see immediate progress. You have to be willing to be bad at writing.
It’s a scary thing to admit that you’re bad at writing. It’s also a necessary thing. Once you acknowledge that you’re bad at writing, you’re no longer held back by uncertainty, doubt, and self-deprecation. And you can finally write.
To overcome writer’s block, start with a writing ritual. Ask yourself, What sensory experiences calm my limbic system? Sip on a cup of coffee as you write. Take a walk and then sit down to write. Play the piano for 30 minutes and then write. Choose a positive, calming sensory experience, and then establish it as your writing ritual. You’ll find yourself wanting to write. And you’ll actually sit down to write.
If you’re still struggling with writer’s block, be sure to listen to our podcast episode. You’ll come away with additional tips on how to overcome writer’s block!