Feeling blocked? How to write your way to genius
I hate the feeling of being stuck. Everyone hates it. We might feel stuck in a job, a relationship, a project. Stuck in our heads!
What I believe it means is that we’re actually caught between two opposing forces, like “I need to” and “I can’t,” or “I want to” and “I shouldn’t.” We worry that we actually don’t have any ideas, or have nothing worthy to offer.
So what can we do? How can we find our way back into that juicy flow, where energy meets ease and challenge meets purposeful effort?
The only antidote I know is movement. That movement may take many forms at different times. Sometimes you need to leave and go for a walk, switch tasks, talk to a friend, take a hot shower.
But there’s another, even more powerful, way to unstick yourself, and I’m betting it’s the last thing you’d think to reach for: A pen.
If the idea of writing in and of itself sounds like a horrible chore and a recipe for actually getting blocked, then you’re thinking of a different kind of writing than I am.
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Writing Doesn’t Have to Be a Miserable Chore
You’re thinking of the kind of writing you’ve been graded on in the past, that gets sent back to you riddled with red ink. You’re thinking of blank pages and panic attacks, essays and papers and a speech or a draft due tomorrow.
That’s writing that centers on asset and outcome, whose value is weighed only on what others think of it. And that’s not what I mean.
To say that the only point of writing is to publish or to prove you’re good at writing is like saying the only point of running is to finish a marathon in record time.
Of course that’s hardly the only reason people run. Most people don’t run marathons. Most runners don’t. But as anyone who runs at all will tell you: It’s a practice, a ritual, a regimen. It can keep your body limber and lean, refresh and focus the mind. You do it because of how it feels during and after, and what it does for you, not your ranking.
I see writing the same way. Easy for you, you might say, you’re a writer!
True—but all that means is that I’ve spent enough time inside of and around writing to know that the point of it is not to win a contest. And because I lead workshops and programs that use writing, I’ve seen what it does to and for people, whether they see themselves as writers or not.
Here are some of the ways in which writing can actually help you get unstuck — and access your own creative genius:
Writing opens doors and flips on the lights.
Writing is a tool for self-discovery, inquiry and reflection—and a powerful path to creativity, ingenuity and insight. Writing turns your thoughts into something tangible and real that you can see and use. No one ever created, shared or sold a thing without first writing it down.
Of course, the idea of doing it can cause people to recoil in fright, to say “oh no no no I can’t do that.” Putting pen to page can feel scary or risky, or make you feel exposed. What if we open that door? What’s on the other side? What if there’s something scary there? What if there’s nothing at all?
Maybe you think it’s a step you can skip, or hire someone else to do. Not so fast.
We tell ourselves how that door is for experts only, and that only people with money, status or a certain set of degrees may enter. Or, that we should wait until we have all the answers or are “good” at it. But no one has all the answers, and you don’t get good by not doing a thing.
The practice of it is what makes it, and you, better.
Writing is not the execution of a fully-formed idea; it’s an act of discovery. That’s what makes it exciting. Because you don’t need to know where you’re going or how you’ll get there. It’s like the inverse of driving: With a car, you have to know where you’re going and have enough gas to get there. With writing, you actually don’t have to know where it’s going to begin; it’s through the act of writing that your best ideas are revealed to you. And rather than run out of fuel, writing generates it.
Grab a sheet of paper and start with the words, “I had no idea that when I got up this morning…” and just keep going. See what comes up. Don’t “think” of something, start writing and let the thoughts come up as you do.
Writing gets you moving.
Writing is a physical act — which means the more attuned and connected you are to your body, the easier it becomes. Think about what it means when you feel “in flow” with an activity: Your body and mind are aligned and you find momentum, so that once you get going, it’s hard to stop.
At the start of every session I lead, we take a moment to get back into our bodies. Why? Because we’re rarely there! We’re holed up in the corner office of our brains, out of touch with the whole operation.
Then, I give them a prompt and brief, timed window in which to write. What they write about is not important — but I like to focus them on an object, maybe something within arm’s reach or something they just bought. This attention to the physical gives you traction and a place to begin.
Remember this: You aren’t stuck if your pen is moving.
Do it yourself—choose an object within arm’s length of where you are right now, and write about it. Don’t aim for a flawless or clever essay; just get into the flow of writing about what it is, what it feels and looks like, where it came from. Give yourself 5 minutes.
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Writing is not just for writers.
Seth Godin says art isn’t made by artists; artists are people who make art. I say the same for writing.
Saying you don’t need to write is like saying you don’t need any knives in your kitchen because you’re not a professional chef. Um, you still need to cut stuff.
Writing isn’t a major; it’s our birthright. You wouldn’t assume that other people should read and others shouldn’t. Same goes for writing.
We all have an innate urge to express, create or share something of value with others. To leave a mark. To matter. But we can’t access it when we think it’s behind a locked door and only special people have the key. Couldn’t be further from true.
Julia Cameron says in her book The Right to Write, “What if there was no such thing as a writer? What if everyone simply wrote?”
Indeed. By not giving yourself easy access to your ideas through writing, you’re making them that much harder to get to, and to share.
What’s one thing you are burning to share with people that you haven’t yet? What would it look like, and feel like, to do that?
“What if there was no such thing as a writer? What if everyone simply wrote?”
– Julia Cameron, The Right to Write
Writing creates meaning.
Our brains are pattern-seeking machines; that’s what they evolved to do.
The act of writing actually can reveal those patterns to us, leading to powerful insights. I can’t tell you the number of people in my workshops who have said, “I had no idea I thought that until it came out of me,” or “I never saw what that meant until now.”
You already know how to do this. You’ve been listening to stories and telling them your whole life. You are naturally attuned to meaning. And when you give yourself the chance to write, you open up a whole other path to meaning and discovery, which by design allows you to wring more from your life than someone who doesn’t.
“We should write because it is human nature to write,” says Cameron. “Writing claims our world…writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living.”
I teach an approach to writing that I’ve been certified in, and have been using for the past decade to dramatically change the way I write—and live, actually. It’s called the Gateless Method, created by Suzanne Kingsbury, an approach to the art and craft of writing that removes criticism and competition from the equation, allowing us to access our creative genius in free and fulfilling ways.
It’s governed by a set of rules we adhere to so that we do not trigger the fight-or-flight response, and the result is a safer space to write than you’ll find basically anywhere else. Writing inside of a safe container expedites trust and helps us beat a path to the door of our genius; it’s how we learn to uncensor, unblock, and unleash that creative instinct so that it’s ours to access whenever we like.
What that means is you don’t have to have someone teach you the one “right” way to do it; you need to give yourself time, space, and permission to explore it, to dive in, body and soul; to be willing to take creative license so that you can explore what you have to say, and be delighted and surprised by how good it feels to say it.