4 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block and Write from Anywhere

I did my best writing the last year of the 18 months I was homeless. It was the year I learned to dance with my lizard brain and write from anywhere. The lizard brain is an actual thing—a physical part of your brain called the amygdala. It’s the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive, procrastination and, of course, writer’s block. It’s responsible for why most of us can’t write from just anywhere. The lizard brain has convinced us that we just can’t.


Becky Blanton is a former award-winning
journalist, editor and photojournalist. She
spoke at TED Global 2009 in Oxford, England
about her experience of being one of the
working homeless for more than a year. She
is working on her book, Staying Hungry, about
how people create gourmet lives
out of the
crap life sometimes piles on their plates.
See her website here.

 

The year was 2006 and it was the year the lizard brain kicked my butt. The month after my father died, I quit my job as a newspaper editor to travel, freelance and grieve. What began as an adventure became almost a year and a half of homelessness of living in a 1975 Chevy van with my rottweiler and my cat. It was a year of evading bored cops who liked to bang on the side of my van at 3 a.m. and tell me to “move along.” I worked a minimum wage cubicle monkey kind of temp job and forgot I could write. My lizard brain was in heavenbathed in fear 24/7. I wasn’t writing anything. I was kicking out excuses like grocery store tabloids kick out new diets and celebrity rumors. It wasn’t until I confronted my inner lizard and kicked back that I began to write again. What being homeless taught me about writing from anywhere is this:

WHY YOU CAN’T WRITE

The lizard brain feeds on fearyour fear. He’s not particularly picky. As long as you’re bathing your brain with fear (adrenaline) like a teenager splashing on cheap cologne for a big date, he’s happy. The problem is, if he’s happy, you’re not writing.

1. IGNORE THE LIZARD’S LIES

You don’t need a computer. You don’t need to feel inspired. You don’t need a muse. You don’t need special software. You don’t need an office. You need a pen, paper and the ability to focus.

2. SIMPLIFY

Stress happens when the demands on you overwhelm your resources. When your resources are overwhelmed your lizard brain responds like rednecks to a new Jeff Foxworthy joke. If you’re stressing, feeling anxious or experiencing writer’s block and you’re working on several things at once Stop. Work on just one. Don’t think about the entire book. Think about one chapter. If that’s too much, think about one page, one paragraph or simply the next sentence.

3. WORK WHILE THE LIZARD SLEEPS

Unless something life-threatening is happening, the lizard brain takes a few minutes to wake up in the morning. That 10 to 15 minutes you have when you first wake up, before you get out of bed with a novel idea, is a great time to avoid the lizard. Keep a notebook by the bed so you can scribble it down before the lizard realizes what’s happening.

4. GO HIGH-TECH

If you can’t write, talk. Use a digital tape recorder and talk your ideas out. Call a friend and tape the conversation the two of you have about your block, or story or writing. Use freeconferencecall.com and download the call and replay it immediately afterwards to help shake your block. This also works if you’re on location, stumble onto a great story and don’t have a tape recorder. Use your cell phone to call your conference call number to leave notes, or to do an interview.

Location, stuff and technology doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Attitude and action do. I’ve written in the middle of forest fires, while homeless, on river rafting trips, at fires, while sitting next to dead bodiesanywhere. It’s a mental gamenot a physical one. So practice. You can do it.

(More tips on how to overcome writer’s block.)

 

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6 thoughts on “4 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block and Write from Anywhere

  1. Amanda-Lee

    THANK YOU!!!

    My lizard kind of ate my tortoise and I haven’t been writing in months. I started in with the thought process of, just leave it until next year when you finish college, then you will have time…but really, if i wait until then…it is going to get even worse…right?

    Thank you sooo much! I think you may have given me the kick I needed 😀

    PS my tortoise is my writing, I am not very far along and it has been very slow going…

  2. Tom Bentley

    Becky, you are on target: it’s so much more attitude that’s the wall between us and our writing, rather than technical trappings or whether the pencil is sharp. Lucky for me, my lizard brain naps after I douse it with cognac (but my spelling suffers…).

  3. Kindra Hall

    Oh that tricky little amygdala!

    I just read a book about outsmarting the Lizard Brain and the concept rocked my world. The book is: One Small Step Can Change Your Life; The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer. The discussion of fear and side-stepping the amygdala, like a sleeping giant, is phenomenal (there are other parts that are skim worthy). It’s a quick read. Thanks for the post!

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