This blog post responds to a question I received recently and offers some ways to interrupt writing resistance or writer’s block. My hope is that it offers support for writers (because we all face resistance, right?), while also providing a glimpse into one-with-one coaching.
I offer this post with gratitude for the writer who shared permission to use the question and response. And I offer many good wishes to writers feeling the pressure of due dates.
The Question: Seeking Suggestions for Writing Through Resistance
I’m reaching out to see if you have any suggestions, resources, or recommendations for writing through resistance or feeling like there’s a tremendous block to getting writing done. I’m having trouble writing and focusing. Any frustrating thing that happens seems to throw off my focus and productivity. And deadlines are quickly approaching.”
My Response: Taking a Pause or Continuing to Write?
Thanks for trusting me with this question and the context of what you’re facing.
I can imagine a lot of reasons for resistance, including pulls on your emotional energy, having just survived a big writing push, and general exhaustion at this time of the academic year. It’s really hard to focus when there is overload of any kind. And I remember being beyond exhausted when finishing my dissertation. The revisions I did after defending were the bare minimum to be done. You certainly aren’t alone in feeling like “how?!?” It’s too much to keep going from due date to due date to due date. It’s like super marathoning (and even long-distance runners rest and prioritize recovery breaks after events).
Taking a Pause
Some years ago I heard writer Elizabeth Gilbert give advice (on the podcast Magic Lessons) to a writer who typically loved writing but was dreading it. She advised the writer to step away and not allow herself to write until she was craving it again. Gilbert advised taking at least a month’s pause from writing, but the writer took only a couple of weeks, I believe. This “don’t write” advice seems totally not possible when due dates are looming, but it’s also a strategy that has worked for me.
When burned out after tenure, I had to stop blogging for almost two months until I wanted to pick it up again—and, then, with a slower pace and fewer posts. Sometimes, I’ve just needed a few days off before I feel ready to write again. Other times, I’ve taken a few days, but then felt like I needed a few more. So, I’m wondering: Is it possible to take any time away from writing, even if this feels like it would set you back? It might help with returning to the project refreshed.
This is probably not the advice you’re seeking, since the question is how to keep writing, and I’m suggesting that you not write. So, let me offer a few other approaches, too.
Continuing to Write
Again, I’m sharing a few strategies that have worked for me in the past, but these might not resonate with you. Do any of these feel right or allow you to imagine a way forward?
1. Following the Strong Yes:
Is there any piece of the writing that sparks joy or feels like a place where you’d like to spend time? I think of this as following a “strong yes”—starting with something that’s inspiring or something that you’re eager to think through or something that might boost your mood or ground you. This could be anything: writing a footnote, weaving in a quote, creating a visualization, drafting a dedication, or starting with the acknowledgements … Starting with something that feels inspiring might help ground you in the project and motivate other revisions that feel less like a YES.
2. Lowering the Stakes through Journaling:
I believe you’re already using this strategy, but something else that helps me is writing outside the document that needs revision. If I’m feeling blocked around even opening the document, then I’ll open a new one or write in my journal or scribble on scrap paper (something that feels informal and not like “writing”). The best is if I write in an email to a friend who can read and tell me what’s working about this rough writing. The idea is to get some words down and then string words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and, eventually, to find a groove again.
3. Returning to the Project’s Purpose:
Another approach—grounding or meditating before writing—will feel familiar from writing retreats. Here’s a recording from one of these retreats: a short meditation around “the five whys,” tunneling into reasons for writing. Often, it can help to reconnect with the purpose for writing. Due dates can take over our calendar and tell us what we have to do. But remembering and reconnecting with why we want to make these due dates can shift the energy. Or perhaps some of those due dates are less important and can fall away? Sitting in stillness, listening to embodied wisdom, and following the breath can help with reconnecting with inner knowing and using it as a guide for writing.
4. Seeking Other Inspiration:
These are a few ideas for writing through resistance or writer’s block. There are many more in sources on writing inspiration, including:
- Books by writing researcher Robert Boice who studied and wrote for academic writers: Advice for New Faculty Members, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure, and Procrastination and Blocking: A Novel, Practice Approach
- The article series on “Overcoming Academic Perfectionism” by Kerry Ann Rockquemore in Inside Higher Ed and Rockquemore’s related work through the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD)
- My favorite book for reconnecting with writing inspiration: bell hooks’s Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work
Also, for other writing support, here’s a walking meditation for writers (perhaps moving the body interrupts extended screen time?), questions for honoring creative play (perhaps reorienting to what’s playful makes writing less burdensome?), and a reminder to read for inspiration (perhaps reading will invite or inspire a written response?).
Let me know if any of these resonate. You might notice if any feel right (like a yes) or if any feel wrong (like a no).
I’m sending good writing wishes! And I appreciate you recognizing these blocks. That’s no small thing.
With gratitude to be writing and in community around writing, Beth