The Way We Create Writer’s Block for Ourselves

Mermaid and LionThe biggest source of my writer’s block has never had anything to do with the actual writing.

What really blocks me is how I feel about myself as a writer.

I have good days and bad days. On a good day I get some pages down, read them over and find they’re not half bad. I’m excited about my story and entertain hopes that I could get readers excited about it too. On a bad day though…I start the comparison game.

That little nagging voice in my head tells me I’m too old to publish a debut novel (F. Scott Fitzgerald was only 21). Or that my life needs to be more interesting (Elie Wiesel lived through the Holocaust). I definitely need a more meaningful message behind my writing (every single book by Toni Morrison). And if I don’t have that, I could at least come up with a thrilling plot (Stephen King-Stephen King-Stephen King).

Within two minutes my brain compares me to at least a hundred other writers, all of whose work I desperately adore.

None of who…are me.

It’s the same voice you hear in your head when you start criticizing yourself. It’s more than self-doubt and it’s more than fear. It’s the voice of the ego, which will always tell you that you’re losing the game.

Playing the game is not a bad thing. Life is made up of an infinite number of games and we’re here to play them. There are power games and sex games, and getting-enough-security games. Enemy games and friend games and a game for every relationship in between. One of the most popular games is “achieving success” and it can be a lot of fun. The achieving success game pushes you to move outside comfort zones and explore creative potential.

There’s nothing wrong with the achieving success game.

It’s when you start taking it too seriously that you run into problems.

The secret to playing these life games is that there are no winners and losers. Just when you think you’ve won a certain game, another wave of life washes over us all and it’s time to play a different round. But the ego doesn’t understand this. The ego looks at someone winning the Nobel Prize in Literature and sees that person as having won THE game for ALL time.

That’s why the ego never has any fun playing the game of life, because it’s so focused on winning that it can never enjoy the experience just for what it is.

When you find yourself comparing your work to other writers, slow down and listen to the thoughts running through your head. You will almost always find that some part of you believes these other writers have “won” while you’re still “losing”.

That’s your ego talking. Also known as the inner critic or the voice of low self esteem.

That’s not you.

The real you—your true essence as a human being—knows that the game is just a game. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s the beautiful, constantly evolving dance we do on earth to express our deepest selves to each other.

And the only way to do this dance is to make up your own steps.


For more on life games and how we play them, check out one of my favorite books:

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

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