Commit #7: Overcome motivational blocks and fear

Writer’s block had hit comedy writer Sarah Sheldon. She took my ‘Commit’ writing challenge. In six weeks, she’d broken a barrier and even made jokes too

Overcoming writer's block and motivational blocks

Overcoming block. Laura Eades 2014

Sarah Sheldon writes:

Just start!

I am actually going to address the difficulty I was going to write about in this post –  the difficulty of starting to write new comedy material about two years after having written my first two successful 10-minute sets – right here, right now and just START.

This writing is writing. Obviously. But just accepting that this counts. Making words is what matters with writer’s block, right? Write.

The block, and the key to unlocking it

I’m a stand-up comedian. I made a good start. Two years later…

…I had convinced myself that I had only two sets’ worth of material in me – one on my grandmother and one on a trip to Nicaragua. Perhaps because it is an entirely personal project, for which I am accountable to no-one.

The power of parameters

I am aware of suggestions for overcoming a block. The advice given, Julia Cameron’s ‘morning pages’ in the Artist’s Way where you just write and write, a couple of pages, the need to get rid of the “inner editor” (it certainly requires more than a couple of paracetamol).

But knowing that I ‘should really write some morning pages’ wasn’t enough. I needed to be given a structure, and a six-week challenge with Laura acting as my manager/football coach/facilitator/provocateur was just what the book doctor ordered.

Writing is solitary but you still need other people

The act of collaboration was priceless: a friend (our very own blogmaster Laura) set me challenges or tasks on a weekly basis.

She undertook a novelling challenge at the same time so it was equal! We kept each other on track.

Momentum of the masses

Well two of us. But that was a critical mass for me.

Suddenly, it wasn’t possible to make the usual excuses to myself about spending that hour’s lunch break at work wandering around the streets looking for a new pen rather than writing my weekly task; there was someone else invested in it who would notice if I failed to meet my side of the bargain.

Me and perfectionism go back a long way

I am also aware of where that block, which is overwhelming perfectionism, might come from. It began at school: the exhaustive 70 page project for biotechnology about milk. Which now I look back on, it seems like the time could have been better spent.

At least when my mum, as a teenager, notoriously missed that Beatles concert it was because she was doing something fun. She was playing in a ping pong tournament. OK, so that’s not exactly rebellious either but at least it’s more enjoyable than reading about the 1815 Corn Laws to produce the definitive A-level history essay.

Not that I am saying it is not a good idea to study but still, I think there are limits. You have to believe you can make it perfect – well, better anyway – later. You have to believe in the value of raw raw material.

Weekly challenges had a strict schedule

Laura emailed me a challenge on a Monday morning, and I’d submit my response by nightfall on Sunday.

My current job involves writing to very tight deadlines (hourly, daily, weekly) which to a certain extent has allowed me to dispense with this preciousness.

I have yet to take it to the lengths of one previous editor, who would use one-word titles for his articles on the economy. Which made it sound at times like a Beano comic “Booming” “Whacked” or “OK”. While at times this may have raised eyebrows, the principle is still a healthy one – of just getting it out there, on time, regardless of the quality.

Incentives

The carrot-and-stick approach helped no end.

Just as we are paid at work and faced with the prospect of the sack if we don’t deliver, the system of rewards and penalties also proved effective.

It might have raised other issues about the capacity to imagine rewards for oneself (really, a new light fitting is the best I can do?), but my latest set owes more to my utter determination not to follow through on the threat, agreed with Laura, to throw my winter fur-lined boots into the Thames, than anything else. Even if the soles do leak.

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Can I help you break through a writer’s block? Sure. Email me, I’ll send you the same provocations.

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