speak/listen

How to stop blocking yourself

By John-Paul Flintoff

They call it ‘writer’s block’, but I think it affects everybody. One minute, the creativity is pouring out of you – then, boom! You stop, set aside the work you love, and fall prey to dark thoughts. This post is about how I got over it – and I hope it might help you to find ways past your own blocks, too.

I had written the bulk of a novel, but as I approached the end, I got nervous. I buried the manuscript, in a crowded cupboard under a load of obsolete computer accessories, and kidded myself that I wasn’t blocked. I was “just busy”.

I was busy. But I’d written most of the book despite all those other responsibilities – and I could have finished it if I’d tried. Just as you could probably have finished YOUR cherished project, by now – forgive me, I’m just guessing here – if you didn’t hide behind a lot of convenient excuses.

Most of my busy-ness, as it happens, involved writing: journalism, and books of non-fiction. That kind of writing was easy, because it was all related to what I was “known for” (what a grandiose phrase!). But to write a historical novel? Who did I think I was? That was absolutely the last thing anybody would expect from me.

We all struggle with this, or something like it. We yearn to create or achieve some ‘Thing’ we’ve not done before, and at the same time the Thing fills us with fear. We get shy about it, hardly daring to state it out loud – not to others, not even to ourselves. We pretend the Thing doesn’t matter.

But it jolly well does, as I discovered pretty well by accident when I started working with Fenella Rouse. Fenella was training as a life coach, and she had asked me – a friend – to be her client. To be honest, I thought coaching sounded flaky, possibly ridiculous, and went along only because I liked and respected Fenella.

I could never have imagined the impact our conversations would have.

One afternoon, with just five minutes left, Fenella asked if I’d ever thought about writing a novel.

“Yes,” I said. “In fact, I almost finished one.” It was the first time I had spoken about it to anybody, for years.

In an ordinary conversation, Fenella might have asked what it was about, and I might have deflected her.

Instead, she said: “Would you like to finish it?”

“Yes,” I replied, to my own surprise.

“How long will it take?”

I thought, about a month.

“When will you start?”

“Monday.”

I did. And I finished the book in a month.

What made that happen? It was as simple as this: I found myself being given the chance to tell somebody what I really wanted. It didn’t absolutely have to be Fenella. It could have been anybody. But how often, in everyday life, does anybody give us that chance? How often do we allow ourselves to say what we really want? Do we even know? Do you?

  1. Say what the Thing is. Say it to someone else. If you don’t, it will never happen.
  2. Ask for help, and don’t mind if people say no.
  3. If they say yes, think of ways to turn it into a great adventure.

Posted: March 15, 2015