Uh oh. Here it comes again. That relentless voice of doubt that snaps me out of my writing—out of my heart—and up into my head. Suddenly, the scene I was just in is miles away and I am rehearsing the old whine, “Maybe I’m not really a writer. Why am I writing this? What makes me think I have what it takes to finish a memoir? Oh my god I have so many other things to do. I don’t have time to write.”


Welcome to what Natalie Goldberg calls monkey mind and what Virginia Woolf deems the Angel in the House.


You might call it your inner critic.


No matter the name it goes by, it can bring writing to a halt and turn precious writing time into full-blown writing panic.


Writing is an energy. When your mind is quiet and you are writing from a connection to your self, the writing flows and you feel present.


Fear freezes the body and blocks the flow of energy. Hence, when the inner critic stirs up fear (or vise versa), energy stops flowing and you experience a block in your energy, i.e., writer’s block.


This blocked energy disconnects you from your voice, your writing, your self. You  are no longer present to the work at hand.


What to do when you find yourself in the grip of writer’s block?


Deliberately shift your energy so that you can return to your writing flow. It’s easier than you may think. Here’s a simple but powerful 3-Step process I use to get myself out of my mind and back into my body where I can access my writing flow. I call it “Reach for a Book You Love.”


Reach for a Book You Love

Step 1

Take your fingers off the keyboard or put down your pen and reach for a book you love. I usually reach for a book from the shelf at the end of my writing table. Sometimes I scan the titles and grab the one that grabs me. The other day I put my hands on Steve Harvey’s excellent memoir The Book of Knowledge and Wonder because I’d recently read it and felt my love for it. The main thing is that you love the book that is now in your hands—on some level you feel a connection with it.


Step 2

Open the book. You can open it to a random page, or you can turn to a section of the book that calls to you. I opened The Book of Knowledge and Wonder to page 1 because I was suddenly curious to see, again, how Steve opens his entire memoir on an important object from his childhood.


Step 3

Start typing verbatim the words on the page before you. Seriously, word for word, start typing. As you type, let the words, the language, the images you are typing wash over you. Notice sentence lengths. Word choice. How a paragraph opens. How one sentence ends and the next sentence begins. Drink in the rhythm and the voice of the writing. Don’t try to figure anything out, just be with the words. Keep typing until you feel yourself returning and the grip of fear letting go, until you feel your energy flowing. In other words, keep typing until you feel present.


This simple exercise rarely fails to return me to myself. I chalk the occasions it hasn’t worked up to my insatiable addiction to going all-out drama queen on my writing : ).  But usually the lure of another writer’s truth and voice and use of language is enough to lure me away from my self-defeating habits.


What tricks do you use to trip yourself out of writer’s block? Let us know in the comments, and together we can build an arsenal that keeps us in our writing flow.

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