Beating Writer’s Block: Define Your Problems

Define Your Problems

In this post, we’re not going to look at your work in progress. This post is all about you. It’s about what makes you tick, and what makes you stop.

In the autumn of 2013, I had trouble sleeping. I had finished college. Several of my close friends were leaving the country. I was stuck in the same weekend job I had had since 2007. I couldn’t sleep, because I couldn’t stop thinking about all the different things that were troubling me. Between the tiredness and the feeling of being overwhelmed by my life at that time, I couldn’t write. I had gone from writing every day for two and a half months – a poem and a blog post as a daily minimum for much of that time – to writing nothing.

Getting back into writing was difficult, but it would have been impossible to do so if I hadn’t first addressed what it was that left me feeling so poorly.

I’m not going to claim to be a self-help guru. I’m not an expert in fixing all the little problems in life. I can, however, tell you how I managed to overcome the troubles I was experiencing. While I can’t guarantee it will work for everyone, it’s a simple trick that should come in handy. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper, and a way to count down two minutes.

If you’re struggling to write, and you have a lot on your mind, this is the exercise for you.

Action Time! Start your two minute timer, and write down everything that’s troubling you.

Work, money, relationships, writing, a big event, a sudden change in your life, everything. Write them in a list down the page.

When the two minutes are up, look at each item on your list. Next to them, write down what you can do about them. You might find there’s nothing you can do for some things. I couldn’t change the fact that my September was going to feel emptier. I couldn’t change the fact that my friends were leaving. They were things that left me upset, but realising that they were a fact – unchangeable, out of my control – meant I could accept them. I still had my weekend job, but I knew from that moment on that I wasn’t bound to it. I could look for another job. I no longer needed to keep a job that gives me just enough hours to keep me going throughout the week. I didn’t need all that flexibility anymore, and instead of looking at the job as a dead end, I could look beyond it.

There were others areas of my life that I worried about, yes. I had a list of five items in total, the other two more personal. One I could do something about, the other I couldn’t, and taking action where it was possible made all the difference. Acknowledging that some things are just how life is at the moment makes things easier to get on with.

This isn’t a quick fix to your problems, but it does help to clear the mind of doubt and worry every now and then. Change what you can about your life, and revisit the other problems further down the line. Something might have changed.

It took me three weeks to write another blog post. I managed to publish one every other week for the rest of the year. It was a slow start, and it was exactly what I needed. By the New Year, I was writing more every day than I had done in a long time, because I had addressed the core issues that were preventing me from thinking clearly and working effectively.

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About Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a writer, born, raised and still living in Dublin. By day he's a student and bookseller, by night he writes fiction and uses social media.
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