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What Causes Writer’s Block

It’s very simple: our subconscious (which is our friend and wants to help us) believes that writing is dangerous, and so it wants to stop us doing it. And because our subconscious, as the root of our creativity, is where our stories come from, it’s in a very good position to stop us writing!

So, why does it think writing is dangerous?

Because, when we write we risk three things: a) failure, b) rejection and c) success.

Let’s talk about this a little more.

It’s true that we risk failure as writers. Our subconscious isn’t wrong about that. The misinformation is that we define failure too widely, and that we wrongly think failure is bad.

So, we let the whole success of the venture rest upon publication. However, if we define success differently, and know that there are levels of success, we can guarantee that we’ll succeed. So, for example, why not count it as success to have finished the novel? I’m serious. Most people who start novels never finish them. If you’ve finished yours, it’s a huge success. Celebrate that. Nothing can ever take that away from you.

Also, let’s learn to be okay with failure. As babies and children we’re cool with failure. We know that it’s just a step on the path to success. No baby ever thought, after falling over yet again, “Well, I’m obviously not cut out for this walking lark.”

School, in my passionate opinion, has a LOT to answer for in teaching us that failure is bad – and that holds us in a leash for the rest of our lives unless we proactively reclaim our right to fail.

If you fail in getting your novel published, that’s a fact. What influences the future is the meaning you put on that. You can put the meaning, “I’m a useless writer, I’ll never succeed,” and give up. That’s one option. Or you can say, “Okay, I failed with that novel. What can I learn from that as I write the next one?” Maybe the learning is that you’re better off as a short-story writer, or a playwright maybe. Or maybe the learning is to do with your craft – tighter plotting, deeper characterisation.

I do know this: the more comfortable you are with failure, the more inevitable is your success.

The second reason your subconscious tries to save you from the dangers of writing is that you’re risking rejection when you write. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the need to belong is short only of food, shelter and personal safety. It’s much more important than things like the personal achievement of your writing. This makes sense because, as herd/tribal creatures, belonging meant safety. We were too weak and puny to survive as an individual. So belonging – at a deep visceral level – is equal to survival. No wonder our subconscious doesn’t want us to risk that! It just doesn’t realise that your writing being rejected does NOT mean being thrown out of the tribe.

So, the more you can get comfortable with rejection of your work (which is just that – rejection of your work, not rejection of you!) the less your subconscious has to protect you from that ‘danger’.

The third danger is that of success. This surprises a lot of people. Success is what we’re seeking, they say, how can we be scared of it?

We can be scared of it because success means change, and change is scary. Also success can also mean rejection. A common thought is: “They won’t like me if I become successful,” and you know what? Some people might not. It’s a valid fear.

For example, if you’re in a writers’ group of unpublished writers – by definition, if you get published you no longer belong. That’s scary.

The trick is to realise that some people will drift away as you get successful – but that they will be replaced by others; others who are successful themselves and who applaud success.

So, the next time you’re experiencing writer’s block – just say to your subconscious: “It’s okay. I know you’re trying to protect me. But there is no danger, it’s okay. You can be creative without fear.”

You may need to say this many times until it gets the message. You can also check out the resources below for more on this.

About Tracey Culleton

Tracey Culleton

Best-selling Irish author Tracy Culleton shares her expertise and advice at http://www.fiction-writers-mentor.com