Three Common Barriers to Writing And How to Overcome Them
April 04, 2020
two toned glass Overcoming barriers to writing Ranjani Rao change mindset

What do you think is worse ? The terror of the blank page or an overflowing fount of ideas with no outlet? Writers often suffer from writer’s block. Not me. I catch ideas faster than I catch a cold .

They drop into my consciousness during my sleeping and waking hours. Snippets of inspiration appear in the shower or on when I walk around my neighborhood. Snatches of sentences play on repeat on my earphones, interrupting my aimless browsing and scrolling. People and places show up to connect long-forgotten memories that lead me to epiphanies.

Most writers would kill for this level of productivity but I have three common problems that most writers, particularly women, would intuitively understand:

  • A full-time job
  • A full-size family
  • A large TBR pile of books

Some combination of these consumes all my available time and energy. And I am tempted to relegate writing to the back burner (and I often do). Time, the critical ingredient required to ponder over and polish every bright shiny nugget of an idea and to produce a coherent, honest piece of writing that is worth sharing, is always in short supply.

Earlier this year, I found a simple trick to increase my creative output.

My secret — Changing my mindset.

Applying this secret to each of my barriers has had an amazing impact on the quality and quantity of my writing in the last three months.

Full time job

In a recent article in The Guardian, “A dirty secret: you can only be a writer if you can afford it,” writer Lynn Steger Strong makes it clear that with or without the assistance of a supportive spouse or community, considering the non-living wage paid to creative people, there is a “very real and bone deep fear of not knowing how you’ll live from month to month.”

As a trained scientist, I have worked continuously for over twenty-five years, a decision that has kept me solvent and sane. Yes, my job burns through my waking hours and drains me physically, but the assurance of a regular income allows my mind to roam freely through ideas and lets me choose what I want to write. Since my ‘real job’ is not related to writing, I am able to approach my writing with a fresh perspective.

Mindset change — Count my job as a blessing, not a barrier.

Action — Expand writing opportunities into all available time slots, no matter how tiny. I write quick outlines on the train while commuting to work, I bookmark articles that I need to cite and sometimes write even longer pieces that are almost ready to publish.

Impact — I have written close to 10,000 words in the last three months

Full-size family

I first began writing when my older daughter was a toddler. She will graduate from college in a couple of months. The younger one is a teenager. They both live at home. There’s a husband as well. Orchestrating the chaos of family life requires constant attention, fine-tuning, and micromanagement, a responsibility that for some reason, falls on me.

In “Women’s work — A personal reckoning with labour, motherhood, and privilege, ” journalist and writer Megan Stack, finding herself subsumed by ‘the immediacy of domestic life and the desperation of small humans’, discusses the impact of motherhood on her plans to write a book.

The obvious, hidden-in-plain-sight reason women had not written novels or commanded armies or banked or doctored or explored or painted at the same rate as men is because women had been doing all of the work, around the clock, for centuries.

Sometimes I get bogged down by the details of home life. But the good thing about writing personal essays is that my buzzing household provides inspiration for my writing. Most of my stories stem from some anecdote, experience, or interaction with my family members.

Mindset change — Think of my family as fodder for my writing, not an impediment.

Action — Use every episode of weekday morning madness, every interesting dinner conversation, every faux pas, to expand my essays. Scribble short reminder notes so these precious minutiae of life don’t get lost.

Impact — More than three articles published in various print and digital magazines in the last three months.

Pile of books to read

My TBR stash sits by my bedside, sometimes as a neatly-arranged pyramid, at others like a pile of rubble, and mocks me. Occasionally it appears at various locations around the house, like scattered debris, to haunt me.

I pick up a collection of short stories, hoping for a quick easy read. Soon it is replaced by a ‘must-read’ novella with an intriguing premise. A visit to the library leads to more interesting titles, and on rare occasions, someone hands me their recent read with a strong recommendation. So much to read, so little time to write, says a little voice, the one that condones procrastination. I am torn between reading and writing.

It is reassuring to find Madeleine L’Engle’s quote

You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write.

Mindset change — Think of reading as a kind of writing.

Action — Reading gives me tools, ideas, and most importantly, the vocabulary to write. A reading binge is inevitably followed by a writing deluge. And my writing flows more smoothly once the stage is set by all the reading that preceded it. Even if no new ideas come, I can always write a book review!

Impact — My writing has deepened into longer, stronger op-ed type pieces on subjects that are important to me.

Making the switch

After months of procrastination and running out of excuses for not meeting my writing goals, I found this simple trick to increase my creative output.

By making simple mindset change, I switched from complaint mode to a grateful one, one step that allowed me to work within the constraints of my life and helped me engineer a major shift in my writing, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Photo credit y.mokashi@Instagram.

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