How to Overcome Writers’ Block

By popular demand (or at least by request from a blog reader), here’s a tip on how to overcome Writers Block.

This is Tip 2 of the 10 suggestions I shared in my presentation on “How to Overcome Writers Block” at this year’s Maui Writers Conference and in my CD entitled “I Can’t Believe I Wrote the Whole Thing.”

Writers Block #2: Are You Trying to Write in Your First or Second Place?

“My husband told me he wanted more space. So I locked him outside.” – Roseanne Barr

Do you have a particular space where you go to write?

Ergonomics is the science of how our environment influences our effectiveness. It includes everything from how a cluttered space produces a cluttered mind to how a too-soft chair or a too-low computer contributes to a sore neck, bad back and decreased productivity.

Over the years, many writers have come to understand that their writing space (or lack of writing space) plays a huge role – for better or for worse — in their ability to get work done.

Where do you usually write? Does your environment help or hurt your efforts to produce pages?

A fellow professional speaker who works from his home office is also active in his kids’ sports activities and in his local Rotary Club. Ron found it almost impossible to work on his book while juggling all his different obligations. “Between the phone calls, emails, paperwork, and questions from my wife and kids, it seemed like I was being interrupted every10 minutes.”

Sound familiar? Ready for a solution?

Best Way to Overcome Writers Block #2: Find and Work in Your Ritualistic Third Place

“Each of needs a free place, a little psychic territory. This is not a luxury, it’s a necessity if we don’t want our energy to run dry. Do you have yours?” – Gloria Steinem

If interruptions are driving you crazy, it’s time to find your Third Place.

Your home is your First Place and your office is your Second Place. If you work out of a home office, that’s both your First and Second Place.

Part of ergonomics centers around the power of ritual. If you repeatedly do the same type of activity in the same place, you mind automatically associates that activity to that location. For example, if you always turn on the TV when you walk into the living room, you’ll find yourself reaching for the remote as soon as you walk into the living room – without even thinking about it. It’s become a “second nature” habit.

That’s why it’s hard to write your book while working at the desk where you pay bills or answer emails. Your mind keeps dwelling on the tasks normally associated with that place which makes it difficult to stay focused on the “alien” activity of writing a book. You are fighting your nature – the habitual behavior that is customarily done in that setting.

Furthermore, your First and Second Place often come with built-in distractions. At work, there may be co-workers walking around, customers to deal with, bosses to answer to . . . not to mention ringing phones, whirring fax machines and clackety copiers. At home, you may be thinking about fixing dinner, doing a load of laundry, or keeping an eye on a toddler.

That’s why it’s so important find your Third Place – a nearby public place where you can work in privacy. (And no, that’s not an oxymoron.) Your Third Place could be your local Starbucks, library or bookstore . . . anywhere you can take your laptop and work anonymously and without interruption.

The beauty of your Third Place is that:
a) There are no chores to be done, phone calls to return, people to answer to . . . so you stay focused
b) it becomes your designated place to write – it’s the only thing you do there – so writing in that location becomes “second nature.”
c) You create a “cocoon of concentration” in which your surroundings slip away and you lose yourself in your work.

Perhaps most importantly, if you go to your Third Place at the same time every week and write, it becomes a ritual. How so?

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

If you go to your Third Place every Saturday morning at 8 and write, every Saturday morning at 8 and write . . . guess what happens the third or fourth time you go there? As soon as you arrive on the premises, you will drop into a state of concentration, the creative faucet will open and the words will pour out of your head so fast your fingers will hardly be able to keep up.

In my book ConZentrate – which Dr. Stephen Covey (author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) recommends as “fascinating and thought-provoking” — I share many quotes and real-life examples from world-class athletes who discuss the pivotal role ritual plays in producing peak performance.

To concentrate on command, you must have a “trigger ritual” you use every single time you want to block everything else out and focus on one thing. Concentration is defined as “the ability to give the mind an order and make it obey.” By using the exact same ritual every single time you want to switch from “wide angle focus” ( in which you’re aware of your surroundings) to “telephoto focus” (in which you zoom in on your sole priority), you’re signaling your brain that it’s time to give complete and undivided attention to the task in front of you.

Golfer Tiger Woods places his hands around his eyes so that the noisy gallery, scoreboard, and his playing partners are “out of sight, out of mind.” Using his hands as “blinkers” has become his trigger ritual for concentrating on command. Musicians tune up before a concert. Surgeons mask up before an operation.

Do you have a physical ritual to trigger your state of concentration? Your ritual can be gathering your pens, re-reading the page where you left off to regain your train of thought and ramp up your mental momentum . . . or it could be the mere act of walking into your Third Place, sitting at the same table, pulling out your laptop and opening up your project file — which will facilitate the flow of words.

Joseph Campbell said, “A sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room and a certain hour of the day when you have creative incubation.”

The good news is, my colleague Ron Culbertson finished his book “Is Your Glass Laugh Full?” because he searched until he found his “creative incubation” space. A friend of Ron’s who was the GM of a local hotel arranged for him to work in an empty hotel room. . . .proving that it doesn’t matter so much WHERE you work as long as you have a ritualistic place that provides the type of concentration-friendly ergonomics that support vs. sabotage your efforts to make progress.

Want more ways to overcome writers block and kick-start your creativity? Visit to purchase my “I Can’t Believe I Wrote the Whole Thing” CD or revisit this blog as I’ll share another tip next week.

Happy writing.

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