How To Break Through Your Work Block

I’ve made a lot of excuses for myself over the past month:

I just finished several large projects; I deserve a break.

I’m distracted because I’m waiting on responses to my lit agent queries; can you blame me?

I’m suffering from Holiday Brain.

I’m suffering from S.A.D.

I’m suffering from this god-awful, nasty, lingering cold.

Poor excuses all, especially considering how much work I could’ve been doing based upon the goals I’d set out for myself.

I’ve been procrastinating on one project in particular: pulling together the notes for the ASJA panel I’m appearing on in the spring. (For more information, you can now find the lowdown on my Sex Writing panel here, on the tab for Saturday, April 28.)

Of course, when it comes to issues of procrastination, burnout, and rebooting, there’s a lot of advice out there: Step away from your work. Schedule in a walk, workout, or meal. Do something that nourishes your soul. Meditate. Etc.

But don’t these tips assume we’re all struggling for one, universal reason? Aren’t they all just temporary salves that don’t actually solve the underlying problem? Why else would we need to repeat them again and again (and again)?

Shouldn’t we be tackling the root of the problem?

Earlier this week, I started reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (I know; I’m just 20 thousand years behind every other writer in the world), and began doing morning pages. On my very first morning, I found myself writing about the ASJA task I mentioned above, and about my true reasons for procrastinating. Somewhat miraculously, I was able to tease out the actual fears that were lurking behind my first reason for procrastinating: It’s far off, so I don’t yet feel any great sense of urgency.

One of those fears was in regard to my general horror in regard to public speaking. Will I be completely awkward? Will I be boring? Will I have a panic attack and lose consciousness? 

But the greater fear was revealed to be about my own feelings of inferiority. Am I too small-time for the well-established writers who will be attending ASJA? Will attendees be disappointed? I don’t make all my money as a writer! I’ve only written for two national magazines! I’m the only one on this panel without a published book! Am I good enough for this?

Once I had targeted these fears, I started flipping them around, transforming them into affirmations:

I have accomplished so much as a writer.

This is a sex writing panel. I have been writing about sex for 10 years, in a variety of media. I have a lot of valuable information to share.

I have been successful in the ways I’ve been hoping for. I am making enough money for me.

I have co-authored an ebook with a well-known sex counselor, and receive royalties. This accomplishment should bring me just as much validitation as the other panelists’ books.

I have something unique to offer.

After concluding my morning pages, I made my way to my computer and opened up the blank document that was to contain all my notes for the ASJA panel. I spent the next five hours drawing up a preliminary script for my presentation, putting together an outline for all the information I wanted to include, and contacting past editors for publication-specific advice I could share with panel attendees.

I got into the zone and, when I was done, I felt good. Relieved. Productive. Accomplished.

Scheduling in breaks and taking care of yourself are good tips when you’re suffering from burnout.

But what if you’re suffering from imposter syndrome? Or boredom with a project? Or lack of faith? What then?

Have you been procrastinating on a specific project lately? Try to pinpoint the true cause of your ambivalence. Then treat that cause… not the symptom.

Related: Didn’t Get It Done? That’s Your Own Damn Fault, Getting It Done, Want Freelance Success? Watch Your Health, How To Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind


  1. I have a lot of thoughts about impostor syndrome. Let’s just say that as writers and as women, I think we’re doubly likely to suffer from it from time to time.

    But from the work angle, it’s just another form of resistance. What I always think to myself is this: Isn’t it interesting that I’m letting the fear of inferiority help me produce inferior work (or no work at all, if I procrastinate enough)?

    Linda Formichelli’s post yesterday provides another way to break, remind yourself why you’re “there” (whether it’s on an ASJA panel or writing make-or-break marketing copy for a huge national client) — look over your brag book, compliment file, whatever you want to call it. I love this idea, and I use it myself. I find it very effective to see people I respect write, “I trust this person to do great work.” [Re:

    You’ll be great by the way. That I’m sure of!

    • I actually have a “warm fuzzies” folder where I save the stuff that makes me emotional in a good way. 🙂 It’s amazing how — when I’m in the midst of a crisis of confidence — I forget to look there. I actually did a session of wellness coaching with Linda and we were talking about weight loss and she told me I should put something motivational up where I can see it (in my case, the $ my mom gifted me to buy a pretty dress from Anthropologie once I reach my goal weight). Maybe we should all be doing the same thing with the contents of our warm fuzzies folders.

  2. Good post. So many of us can thank Julia Cameron for her help – though I swear, I need to read that damn book over and over for some of those important lessons to stick! Another post idea: why do we often forget the lessons we learn, only to have to relearn them again and again, often the hard way?

    • “why do we often forget the lessons we learn, only to have to relearn them again and again, often the hard way?”

      It’s interesting you mention that, because I often find that the books and articles that bring me the biggest a-ha moments are actually imparting lessons I’ve learned before. Some lessons take a lot longer to sink in…

  3. The beginning of this post was my life and my excuses from Nov to now, except I have an extra one: the new puppy is too time consuming.

  4. I love morning pages. I read The Artist’s Way a year ago and right before the holidays got myself a new (non-library) copy to read again & mark up. I started doing morning pages again as 2011 ended and I find that they’re more meditative and theraputic than anything else I do when I’m in a funk or battling SAD or just not feeling good enough as a writer. They really do clear the way for better, more productive thoughts to come through, which is obvious by your hella productive day outlining those notes!

    • I guess it can’t be a coincidence… I feel as if I’ve been in a funk since the end of November, when I wrapped up a major project and then dove into the holiday season. Then this week… abracadabra!

      Then again, I’ve also been reading a lot about the eight-limbed path, and working on my mindset, and I feel that helps, too.

      In the end, perhaps all the struggling and striving and floundering and introspection is necessary to bring you to the turnaround point.

  5. I dug out my copy of The Artist’s way just before the holidays but I still haven’t cracked it open. It’s been years since I read it but you’ve inspireded me to go read it right now! Thanks

  6. I have a copy of The Artist’s Way sitting on my night table, where it has sat, unopened, for way too long, so I’m even behind you in reading it. Am I too much of an imposter to even open it up? Now, that would NOT be good…

  7. The morning pages are amazingly helpful, and I find them helpful sometimes more than in the morning, or other than in the morning, too.

  8. SIgh. I guess I need to start doing morning pages again. I have never really bought into the Artist’s Way, and I feel like I’m the only one who didn’t gain anything from it. Enlighten me – why am I not feeling its genius? What am I doing wrong??

    • I actually put off reading The Artist’s Way for years, because it seemed too woo-woo. I’ve only read up to the second week of the program so far, so I can’t yet say whether or not it’s genius. Other artists have told me that they’ve found value in the book… but only in parts of it.

      Either way, the morning pages do seem to have dislodged some blockage inside of me, but what this post is really about is seeking out the root of your blockage… whether through morning pages or something else entirely.

  9. I *have been procrastinating on a project (the “business” side of my business), and I finally figured out that it’s my aversion to spreadsheets that’s causing the lag. So I decided to embrace the whole spreadsheet lexicon and embrace the whole financial/bookkeeping part of the business. Things are already looking up! I love my spreadsheets with the fun colors and organized columns. 🙂

  10. I haven’t ever read The Artist’s Way, so don’t feel bad. Morning pages are a good idea. I went to her site, and read the pdf. explaining them, and her reasons for doing them. Perfectly valid, as the key that unlocks the door. Also, it gets all of the whining out of the way so we don’t waste time doing them when we need to write! I’ll have to make my morning pages my afternoon pages, though, as I have to get up at 6 a.m. everyday as it is. I’ve tried to get writing of any kind done before then, but I’ve never been able to do so consistently.


  1. […] learned two very important terms in the world of writing (and everything, really, I guess): “Impostor Syndrome” and “Energetic Tackiness“. And it got me to thinking about my fears of […]

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