I planned to take three days off of writing over a long weekend. Breaks are good, and I’d had this one scheduled several weeks in advance.
I ended up actively avoiding my writing tasks for over a week.
I’m not quite sure what happened. At first, I thought I was just tired, worn out from a short trip I’d taken. But even when I found myself with enough time and energy to get back to work, I physically and mentally could not bring myself to even open one of my documents.
Completely blocked mentally and even more anxious about the fact that I wasn’t writing, I knew I wasn’t going to get any work done. So I kept saying, “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.” Again. And again. And again.
But I knew this could not go on forever. I didn’t just have goals — I had responsibilities. So I took a bunch of deep breaths, sat myself down in front of one project, and just started writing.
It was, still, surprisingly difficult. It got easier. But only after minutes of writing had passed.
It almost felt like I had never written before, and I’d been given the task of writing just as much as I’d been writing before. I felt overwhelmed. Unqualified. And … scared?
Me. Scared. Despite the fact that I had pretty much been writing every single day, at least a little bit, up to this point over the past year or so. I was not a beginner sitting down to attempt to write something for the very first time. I knew how to write and had plenty to work on. A lack of ideas was not the issue.
So what was I afraid of?
It turns out that the longer you wait to start something, the harder it is to start it. Or the longer you “take a break” from something, the harder it is to jump back into it. Which is why I’m always telling you to Just Start The Thing and schedule your breaks. The “I’ll do it tomorrows” will pile up. And a week will pass before you even know it. A month. Maybe even a year.
You are not immune to the mental blocks that come along with all parts of the writing process. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never published a book or you’re a bestselling author. These things happen to everyone regardless of experience or expertise. Why? Because brains are weird and so are people. The longer you wait, the easier it will be to convince yourself it’s not worth doing anything at all.
I ended up taking a much-needed vacation from my side hustles, and in the long-term I’m probably going to be glad I did that, even if it wasn’t planned. But I’m lucky to be able to say I could get back to writing despite how much anxiety I had about it. There are a lot of people who can’t. They keep telling themselves they will, but never do. That makes me sad.
What do you do, when you’re so overcome with fear that you can’t do what needs to be done? Honestly, I’ve only found two things that work for me personally: Telling myself out loud that I have nothing to be afraid of and I’ll feel better once I start writing again, and writing until the fear gets buried by a new surge of creative energy.
If you’re anything like me, you thrive off of creative flow. You need to make things. When you don’t, everything feels wrong. I couldn’t figure out if I wasn’t writing because I felt “off” or if I felt “off” because I wasn’t writing. But I was never going to find a true answer to that question. Once I started writing, I was able to continue, and things returned to normal. Whatever “normal” means.
When something scares you, but you need to overcome it, you really just have to face it. That’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be. The only way to be less scared is to keep facing your fear until it becomes a habit.
Don’t wait to do the things that scare you. It will only make it harder.
Don’t think you’re immune to these kinds of creative mental blocks, because you aren’t.
Things happen. The only way to get through them is to write through them.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.