4 Powerful Mantras to Beat Writer’s Block

Four Mantras That Will Get You Back to Writing

1. “It’s never too late.”

From Elizabeth Gilbert:

Writing is not like dancing or modeling; it’s not something where—if you missed it by age 19—you’re finished. It’s never too late. Your writing will only get better as you get older and wiser. If you write something beautiful and important, and the right person somehow discovers it, they will clear room for you on the bookshelves of the world—at any age. At least try.

2. “I only promised that I would write.”

From Elizabeth Gilbert:

One day, when I was agonizing over how utterly bad my writing felt, I realized: “That’s actually not my problem.” The point I realized was this—I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write.

3. “It’s normal to take a while.”

From Ira Glass:

Nobody tells people who are beginners—and I really wish somebody had told this to me—that all of us who do creative work get into it because we have good taste. But . . . there’s a gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good. It has ambition to be good. But it’s not quite that good. But your taste—the thing that got you into the game—your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you.

A lot of people never get past that phase; a lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. . . .

For you to go through it—if you’re going through it right now [or] if you’re just getting out of that phase—you’ve got to know that it’s totally normal, and the most important possible thing you could do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. In my case, I took longer to figure out how to do this than anybody I’ve ever met. It takes a while. It’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take a while, and you just have to fight your way through that.

4. “It’s not work.”

From Ray Bradbury:

Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say, “Oh, my God, what word?” . . . To hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.

[Say] in the middle of writing something, you go blank . . . you’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying, “I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.” . . . To hell with that! I don’t write things to benefit the world. If it happens that they do, swell. I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to have a hell of a lot of fun.

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Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer

Studies have shown that you’re more likely to be happy if you have happy friends, and I’m sure that’s true for writers too: Surround yourself with happy writers and you’re more likely to be a happy (and productive!) writer yourself.

I love writers who choose to be optimistic even though writing can be difficult and frustrating. One such happy writer is Nathan Bransford. I enjoyed his book How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. The value of this book isn’t based so much on the writing concepts themselves, but on Bransford’s ability to convey the writer’s life in an honest yet optimistic way (read the Table of Contents for proof).

I recommend both Bransford’s book and his 2009 blog post “Ten Commandments for Happy Writers.” As Bransford says:

[B]elieve it or not, writing and happiness can, in fact, go together.

Writers Write (Most of the Time)

Humans are driven by emotion (as much as we may not want to admit it). We go through cycles of motivation, of laziness, of optimism, of cynicism, of happiness, of sadness.

Just because we haven’t been consistently doing something our entire lives doesn’t mean it isn’t a part of who we are.

Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird when she was in her twenties. It won the Pulitzer Prize and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. She’s now eighty-six and has yet to publish another book. Is she a “real writer”?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was published over one hundred fifty years ago; it’s required reading in most college literature courses. Emily never published another book. Was she a real writer?

Margaret Mitchell only published one book too: Gone with the Wind. Same with J.D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye.

My point is that—yes—writers write, obviously. But not all of the time, sometimes not even most of the time. There is no threshold a writer has to cross in order to be considered a “real writer.”

You are a writer if you say you are.