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9 Ways to Cure Writer’s Block with Margo Aaron

About This Talk

This talk is by Margo Aaron and was recorded on October 8, 2020. You can learn more about Margo by: 

Also mentioned in this talk:

Timestamps

0:00 Intro
03:35 About Margo
05:20 The Truth About the Muse
06:40 The Problem With the Writing Process
08:40 Reasons You’re Stuck in Creative Purgatory
25:33 How to Overcome Creative Purgatory
32:11 9 Ways to Cure Writer’s Block

The Truth About the Muse

There’s a myth about the muse. It goes like this. There’s a beautiful, free-spirited woman who provides inspiration whenever and wherever she shows up. The problem is that she’s a flake. 

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 

Steven King, On Writing

The Problem With the Writing Process

Most of us get stuck in the creative process in a stage that Margo calls creative purgatory. Here’s how Margo sees the writing process:

But why do you get stuck in creative purgatory? Six reasons. 

#1 The Voices

Something in your head is telling you that you’re doing something wrong. The voices distract you, and you start writing for them instead of for your real audience – your target market. 

#2 It’s Personal

Writers build an identity around writing, whereas people who write think of writing as a tool or a skill. If you approach writing as something deeper personal, you’ll have more trouble separating yourself – and your self worth – from the quality of your writing. 

#3 The “I’m Better Than This” Phenomena

There’s a myth of discovery. You may believe that if you’re good at something, accolades and recognition will follow. You may feel like if you’re really good at what you do, then you don’t need to go to the trouble of writing, and perfecting what you write. Why should you have to write emails, and landing pages, and articles, and podcasts, and video scripts, or anything at all? 

Here’s the thing. Being the best isn’t enough. You need to get the word out, and you need to write. Just get over it, and keep writing. 

#4 Physical or Mental Exhaustion

You can only do so much. Making too many decisions? You won’t be the best writer you can be. Not getting enough sleep, exercise, or water? You’ll be physically exhausted. Yes – these things affect the quality of your thinking and the quality of your writing. Take care of yourself and write at a time of day when you aren’t exhausted. 

#5 High Expectations

When we try to be creative, original, interesting, funny, special, unique…whatever it is that you expect of yourself is generally too high for your first draft. Dial back the expectations. All you really have to do is sit down and write to complete your writing task. The more you do it, the more likely you are to create something good. 

#6 Confusing Criticism and Feedback

Some people in your life are equipped to give you feedback, while others will just praise or criticize you. Here’s a telltale sign: if you give your writing to someone and they say “it’s good” or “I didn’t like it” or start correcting your grammar, they’re not giving you feedback. Someone who gives you feedback will ask questions like:

  • What are you trying to accomplish with this piece?
  • Who’s it for?
  • What’s your core argument here?
  • What kind of feedback do you want?

How to Overcome Creative Purgatory and Write When You Don’t Want To

Introducing Shitty First Drafts (SFDs), and idea that comes from Anne Lamott’s Birb by Birb. It may take you 1,000 words to write one decent sentence. If you focus on writing anything – especially allowing yourself to write badly.

Here are Margo’s recommendations on tactical things you can do to get out of your own way. 

Write to Your Customers, Not Your Colleagues

You have the wrong person in your head when you write! This has to do with the voices in your head. Keep in mind a single client or reader when you write. Hyperfocus on that one person, and it’ll be a lot easier. Try putting a person’s name at the top of the page and keep them in mind the entire time you’re writing. 

Get Yourself Some Creative Allies

These people are familiar with the creative process. They’re either doing it themselves by creating and publishing content, or they intimately understand how it’s done. These people will give you the best feedback, and ask you important, useful questions to help you improve your writing. 

Write First, Draft Second

Please don’t judge your sentences. Write now, and don’t worry about how it comes out. You can edit later to improve the flow, style, and other layers of your writing. In the beginning, just make it as shitty as possible. Make it pretty later. 

Sleep and Hydrate

If you’re not healthy, you’re not doing your best work. It seems silly, but it’s worth saying because it may be the most important thing you need to do. 

Costume Changes

Margo had a client who liked to change into a writing “costume” to help her get in “writing mode.” A simple outfit change helped her feel like she was switching into writing mode. If you have a hard time flipping this switch, try out a simple costume change. 

Environmental Changes

Write at a desk, or on a couch, or at a coffee shop. Personally, I like writing on my bed because there’s nothing else in the room to distract me. 

Move

Exercise when you get stuck. Being away from your work will help to organize your thoughts. Plus, your body is meant to move!

Foreplay: Get Yourself In the Mood

Is there a song, a poem, an article, a book, a show…something that can ignite your creativity? Some people like listening to the same song on repeat. Others have a movie on in the background. Whatever works for you, do that. 

Be Derivative

This is an idea from Austin Kleon’s Great Artists Steal. Just write like someone else tonally. The more you do it, the more you’ll take on a persona, style, or voice that eventually becomes “you” every time. 

In conclusion, just remember:

“The first draft of anything is shit.” 

-Ernest Hemingway

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