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Overcoming Writer's Block Caused By Stress

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David Farland unpacks how to defeat a very specific form of Writer's Block.



One form of writer’s block comes from being stressed. This is almost always a temporary condition, and there are ways to work around it, but much depends on the source of your stress.

Let’s say for example that you have set aside your Saturday mornings to write, and suddenly you get the news that your mother is terribly ill. You schedule a flight to go see her, but your flight isn’t going to leave for six hours. So you think, Well, I can still write for a few hours.

The truth is, you probably can’t. When you’re over-stressed, your subconscious mind will not cooperate. It won’t allow you to focus your mental abilities on writing. It wants to worry about your mom.

Ideally, if you have a source of stress in your life, you can simply remove that source of stress. For example, if you’re suffering from financial stress, you might find a way to save money, or perhaps make a little more.

But not all forms of stress can be easily removed, so sometimes we need to figure out how to work even with added stress. You might, for example, be able to tell yourself, I’ll worry about Mom once the plane lands, and that might be enough for you to get into that nice trance-like state that writers need in order to compose well. If you’ve trained your mind to go there well enough, it can be done. Especially since your subconscious knows that worrying really doesn’t often do you any good.

One crippling emotion that is related to stress, of course, is grief. When we suffer the loss of a loved one or even a pet, the grief can be debilitating. But normally we can work our way through that particular kind of pain.

There are several techniques that can really help in such situations, though. Very often, there are things in our life that cause us to go into that stressful mood more easily. Some authors, for example, find that the stress of home life is constantly pulling them out of their writing mood—so they go on writing retreats. I personally have had a number of excellent writing retreats down in Cabo San Lucas. I’ve tried to duplicate them in other cities, but I really just love my little beach in Cabo, where I can take my computer out before dawn and sit back and write while the sun rises.

When a writer subconsciously becomes accustomed to reaching the relaxed writing state in certain places, we say that he is “anchored.” You can often relieve stress by doing certain things. For example, many writers have a favorite chair. Some love to have music playing when they write. Others need to have the smell of steaming coffee. I knew one writer who had to wear his writing hat, and so on.

The important point here is that you can learn to use anchors to block and overcome stress, and you can even learn how to get rid of negative anchors and build positive ones.



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I spent six years writing my first book. I was finally to the point of "stressing" over the query letter.


Then hubby had "indigestion." (He knew it was indigestion because Google told him. BTW, if you ever want to see puzzled splashed all over a doctor's face, tell him that one in the ER.) Four days later, the indigestion became an emergency trip to the ER. He was in the midst of a massive heart attack, and the cardiologist never said the words, however, there was little doubt, he wasn't likely to make it through the night. But they sent him across the street to another hospital to have stents put in. (And, I did not get to go in the ambulance with him.)


Reading and writing takes me out of this world to another place for a while. So, I tried to write that query while in the waiting room. Truthfully, it was no worse than previous attempts. It wasn't any better either. :$


He came home seven months later. I didn't start querying until the following year. Ends up, it never mattered. Never got the Yes from an agent.


Got the better YES. Hubby is still alive and kicking!


Writing is what we do in life, but living supersedes it sometimes. That's okay.

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