How to find and destroy the causes of your writer’s block

Energy Drains consume a lot of your mental space — and are one of the biggest causes of Writer's Block. Here's what you can do.
Energy Drains consume a lot of your mental space — and they could give you Writer's Block. Here's what you can do.

You know those friends who make you cringe or roll your eyes every time you pass one of their posts on your feed? We all have those people — the ones you accepted friend requests from even though you only knew each other in 5th grade, and you haven’t spoken to one another or Liked a single post in the endless years you’ve been “friends.” The ones who post political rants all the time, and whether you agree or not, you’re tired of listening to people stir shit. The ones who post boring one-liners all day and notice when you don’t like them, but probably aren’t even following your feed. Yeah, they could be one of the causes of Writer’s Block for you.

Those people are energy drains. They steal all your mental energy, leaving you dry as a bone when it comes time to write. But they aren’t the only energy drains. There are many, and you can surmount them all.

Energy drains and how do they cause writer’s block

An energy drain is something that consumes a lot of your mental space — at the detriment of your headspace.

You need that headspace. It’s the zone you get into when you’re working on your novel. It’s when your mental engines are firing smoothly and fast and you’re feeling like you could do anything.

And then energy drains come along and knock you right out of that headspace, causing writer’s block. You’re left foggy, distracted, frustrated, and apathetic. If only you could destroy those Energy Drains before they destroyed your writing process.

Good news: you can!

Curate your experiences to destroy writer’s block

A few years back, I was plagued by writer’s block, and I had a hunch where it was coming from. I decided I needed to make a change because if I didn’t, I’d ALWAYS have writer’s block—and that just wasn’t acceptable. Facebook was one of my Energy Drains and the biggest cause of writer’s block (for me).

My friend count wasn’t huge to begin with, but I looked critically at the people I was friends with, the groups I was part of, the links I saved, and knew I needed to make a change. The first thing I did was trim my friends list. I got it down to 140 (and later just 95) with no regrets. My feed started to actually be interesting again. The people I saw updates from were people I cared about, and not someone I vaguely remembered sitting behind in 7th-grade history class.

Facebook wasn’t the only place I purged. I stopped following some uninspiring Instagrams. I deleted my personal Twitter account because I had never enjoyed the platform, but kept an account because I thought I needed one if I wanted to connect with other writers.

I even trimmed my Goodreads TBR list down from over 400 to 42. 😱

I love this quote! Being a Ravenclaw, I get frustrated when I feel like I don't understand some quantum physics theory, can't figure out how to bake well, or don't see myself improving when I try to do a handstand. A lot of the time, I put all of my self-worth on being *good* at something or *knowing* something.

But that's stupid.

So when I need a little self-love pick-me-up, I think of this quote. The whole que sera sera attitude is a good reminder that I can't control everything, so who gives a Faulkner whether I completely understand the Uncertainty Principle or have the core strength to flip myself upside down and stand there on one hand. I just have to keep trying, and if the fates are in favor, it'll happen.

PS – If you're struggling with these feelings or any other writing energy drain, I've got some tips for you. (link in bio!)

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Energy drains add up pretty quickly. You create a Tumblr account, for example, and add one or two interesting “People to Follow” from the suggested list just to get you started. Then a few more. A month later, you’re following 120 accounts that you care so little about you don’t even pause your scroll for ’em.

Or maybe you collect friends on Facebook. The more the merrier, you think. Or, the more friends you have on Facebook, the cooler you are. And THIS IS TOTALLY FINE if you don’t try to actually keep up with all of them, and having them on your feed doesn’t keep you from keeping up with folks you care about. 

Have you thought of your social media accounts as a popularity contest before? We all have, to some degree.

But you have to curate your external experiences to keep writer’s block at bay. If you’re passive about energy drains and don’t set boundaries, they will slowly accumulate and you’ll become overwhelmed by the information overload. This causes writer’s block.

Get rid of the energy drains to get rid of writer’s block.

How to find your energy drains

I won’t lie to you. This first push is going to take some time and commitment from you, but you’re ready for this because you HATE writer’s block and you don’t want it to control your life.

Make the decision to limit yourself to things that only bring happiness or inspiration.

This will be a game-changer for you.

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What to do

Go through all your online Energy Drains, and you’ll find that the time you spend on them is probably overwhelming your mind to the point of exhaustion. You might even have lost motivation for writing altogether.

As a writer, this is heartbreaking and demotivating. It can even ruin your writing confidence. But it doesn’t have to be that way! 

A little bit of curation each week (or each day, if you’re up for it) will, over time, lessen the mental load you bear day-to-day. This means you’ll have more energy and space remaining to story-craft. The writer’s block will naturally fade as a result.

Here are the steps I took to overcome my energy drains and how you can, too.

01. Make an Energy Drains List

One of the things that surprised me was I had over 200 links saved on Facebook going back to March 2012. Unread.

Just random links, chilling, waiting for the day I’d notice them. I couldn’t even remember why I’d been interested in reading most of them. But I deleted them all. A clean slate for a social media platform I used extensively (for writing groups and other interests) and needed to be able to use without distraction. Social media is so prone to distracting us, but what do you do when you actually need that platform to learn, interact with your writing community, or chat with your grandmother who lives on the other side of the country?

Social media platforms themselves aren’t bad; we just need to curate our experiences so they don’t cause writer’s block!

Afterwards, I was so pumped by this clean sweep and all the brain space I’d opened up for myself, I decided to go through all of my online commitments, and other mental time wasters right then to see how much it really affected my writer’s block. And spoiler alert: It was A LOT.

My list was a long one. And they weren’t all easy fixes, either, but the list gave me a place to start. It gave me something to focus on, so that I could choose which Energy Drain to tackle, then get the satisfaction of crossing it off.

Places to check for causes of writer’s block

  • Email messages
  • Email accounts (the # of them)
  • Photos on your phone or computer
  • Bookmarks
  • Facebook saved articles
  • Twitter “likes” to read later
  • Instagram/Twitter/Facebook accounts you don’t really want to follow
  • Email subscriptions you always delete
  • More than one or two news sources
  • Pinterest boards
  • Forums
  • Browser tabs
  • Books you want to read but never will
  • Research links that you won’t go back to read
  • Google Drive documents
  • Computer files and folders
  • An out of date calendar
  • Out of date phone contacts

What other energy drains and causes of writer’s block have you identified in your life? Share them in comments so we can tackle them, too!

02. Pick your starting point, any starting point

The idea here is that you only want to keep what’s valuable to you (and your writing).

For me, I decided to next tackle my most mammoth of energy drains: my Google Chrome bookmarks. I had over 510 of these bad boys. Many of them I’d started saving in 2006 and transferred from browser to browser, computer to computer, for almost a decade.

I was researching and writing my first novel at the time, so I knew I didn’t want to just go in, Select All, and delete them. I needed to review many of them first. And that’s okay. If you need to think about some of your clutter before you delete it, go for it. Just make sure you don’t get distracted from your process. 

03. Set a reasonable process and timeline for nixing your causes of writer’s block

It is so, so easy to sit down with every intention of cleaning up the causes of your writer’s block, only to get sidetracked reading the very Wikipedia article you’re planning to delete.

For me, most of my bookmarks were novel research-related. I didn’t want to delete them just in case I needed them later. The just-in-case mentality is one you need to evaluate in yourself. Make sure that you don’t let yourself get bogged down in things you might need one day at the expense of being able to find the things you actually need today.

Like with cleaning out a cluttered house, you need to set up a Keep/Move/Toss strategy for your energy drains. There may be some items that legitimately bring you happiness, or that you legitimately need. Obviously, those go in the Keep pile. You can check them off and move along.

Others may be things that you quickly saved in your email inbox, but it really needs to be saved to Google Drive, and you’ve been putting it off. No problem. Move it on over and promise yourself you won’t do that again.

If you need to evaluate an item, by reading it over, checking that it’s not already saved elsewhere, or reviewing why you had it in the first place, do so. But set yourself a time limit for each item. Say, no more than 5 minutes maximum. If you can’t decide in five minutes, then maybe it needs to go. Be realistic with yourself. Only you know what you truly need and what you truly love.

04. Set yourself up for continued success

Have you ever spent all weekend cleaning the house and by Monday night it was a wreck again?

Yeah, me too. Usually, when I get a wild hair to DIY.

There’s no point in going to all of this trouble if you aren’t going to maintain your good work. Like with your house, it takes upkeep and commitment to keep the things that cause you writer’s block at bay. The best advice I can give you here is this:

Do not passively let energy drains into your mind again.

This goes for accepting all friend requests, blindly following back people who follow you on social media, links you save to read later, apps you download, notifications you allow, emails you subscribe to, and so on. Consider everything carefully before you let it in.

Once you let an energy drain in, it’s easier to let in one more…then one more…

It doesn’t have to be personal, for example, to say no to a friend request. Just choose the boundaries you want for yourself, to keep your head and heart as clear and energized as possible, and don’t lower those boundaries. Be ruthless. This isn’t about being nice or not nice.  It’s about your health and your Magnum Opus.

Destroy your writer’s block! Which energy drain will you overcome first?

Energy drains, and the writer’s block they cause, build over time, so it’s okay if it takes you some time to clear them all out and get to a baseline you love.

Get started today. Make your list. Choose your first energy drain to tackle, and tackle it. Make a note of how your writer’s block has responded. On a scale of 1-10, what was it before and what is it now?

And hey, while you’re at it, I would love to know what energy drains you’ve identified in your life and how you’re going to knock ’em out. Let me know in comments, or Tweet me!

Funnily, one of the articles I’d saved and forgotten on Facebook was an NPR one from March 2012 and it sparked an idea. They say there it takes 66 days to change a habit. Not, apparently, 21.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do like the Habit Loop that they talk about.

It’s not just the time that it takes to develop a new habit, it’s how the habit forms in your brain. First there’s a trigger that signals your brain to cue the habit; then the habit action itself; then finally the reward.

You can have that reward if you’re willing to develop the habit. 

You know the causes of writer’s block now. So, what change will you make?

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