How I overcame decades of writer's block

Since I've written 4 books in the last 2 years, you might not believe this, but I've had writer’s block for most of my life. Up until 2015.

In school many of us are traumatized by writing. We have to write on topics we don't really care about. We have to produce on a deadline, and the quality of our writing is judged as compared to our peers. It's a terrible way to learn to love a skill.

I suffered through 17 years of such schooling, earning a college degree in English literature (where I had to write paper after paper!) By the way, English was my second language, though I learned it fairly young, starting around age 7.

Fast forward to 2009 when I started my business -- in marketing of all fields! -- where writing is of supreme importance. It was painful every time I had to write an email newsletter, update my website, or even a social media post.

For the first five years of my business, I did not blog. In fact, I ridiculed the blogging and content industry. I talked about how bloggers are stupidly giving away so much value for free, when they could be charging for most of it.... 
Back then, I was selling expensive online courses, and the only thing I was giving away for free was teasers... "free” webinars that were essentially elaborately-designed sales pitches.

Forward to 2014. I had been going through a deep spiritual transformation. I came to see my business practices in a new light. I stopped selling my expensive ($2,000) online courses, and started providing one-to-one, individualized coaching, at a reasonable rate.

And I started to give away all my content for free.

I became one of the "dumb" bloggers I was making fun of!

Now I realize: the bloggers had it right all along.

When you create and publish content consistently, you earn enormous benefits over time:
  • You get smarter, faster.
  • You get to see what types of content your audience wants, and therefore, what you can develop further and even monetize.
  • You build loyalty with your readers. They see that you care enough to give useful knowledge consistently.
  • You develop connections and earn respect from trustworthy colleagues with whom you can collaborate.
  • You build an online presence you can truly be proud of.

So how did I overcome my 30-year dislike of writing?

In 2015, I was one year into my business awakening (which I wrote about in Principles of Authentic Business) and I decided to challenge myself to make five casual videos a week.  

Even though I’ve had writer’s block very often, I’ve never had talker’s block. I find it much easier to talk out my ideas than write. This is what I did (and still do) on my videos.

(Kudos to one of my avid readers, Laura Quilligan, for mentioning the idea of Voice Journaling: to record yourself talking through ideas or telling stories. You don’t have to share the recordings. It’s a way to help you explore and find your authentic voice.)

Once I started making videos, I realized that many people prefer to read instead of take the time to watch a talking-head video. I’m the same way. I find reading blog posts much easier to consume ideas than sitting through a video.

So, out of courtesy, I started to quickly, casually, write out the content of my video each day.

I thought, "I'm just going to quickly type what I basically said in the video, so those who don't watch can still get the main message."

I started doing this on my little phone screen. Interestingly, having such a small screen eased my writer's block:

  1. Just a few sentences, typed out on a small screen, looked like I was writing a lot, which increased my confidence.

  2. Letters appearing across the small screen, as I typed, looked like I was writing faster than it would've looked on a computer screen.

Because I was making a video every weekday, I had to do the writing five days a week as well, and I found it was always at the same time -- right before bed.   

(Now, my writing rhythm has changed to 4 days a week at 2pm.)

A few dozen writings later, I discovered that I had overcome my writer's block!

I did this without trying to overcome the block... but simply as a result of the following factors.

No Big Deal

I was writing very casually, without thinking "this is going to be part of a book, or even a blog post!" Back then, it would have been far too intimidating for me.

"No big deal; this is just a quick summary of my video" was the key to overcoming my perfectionism. This allowed me to finally share my writing, and to keep doing it.

If you’re not making videos, try voice journaling. Start a new Google Doc and use voice typing. Without any pressure or need to publish your writing, just speak your ideas, no matter how faltering it may be. You’re simply capturing whatever comes out, and you can always edit it later.

A Casual Medium

I was writing in a medium that didn't intimidate me: my phone. It felt like I was writing a quick email to a friend.

If I had been writing on my computer, with a blank screen staring at me, I would have been too anxious.

For some people, instead of writing on the phone, it helps to open up a new email message on the computer, and write as if to a supportive friend. You don't have to try to impress them or perform through your writing; you are just enjoying that connection with them, and sharing your thoughts honestly.

Daily Practice

I was writing content almost everyday, which became a daily practice of ignoring any fear/anxiety that might overtake me.

Years later, I still feel some fear, doubt, and perfectionism every time I write. (In fact, right now I feel these as I write this to you!) But the muscle of ignoring those feelings has grown very strong.

Instead, I pay attention to the excitement of exploring my message and the joy of sharing them with you, and I focus on the feelings of service and connection.

Same Time

I was writing at the same time everyday.

This had the effect of priming my brain: “It's time to write!"

Over the past few years I’ve changed the time that I write. That’s ok. Just stay consistent as much as you can, and eventually you’ll train your brain (and muse) to show up at that time.

Appreciation & Accountability

Since I was posting all my writing on social media, I was getting appreciation for at least some of it, which was enough to encourage me to keep going.

Also, my audience was now expecting to see my writing on a regular schedule. I didn't want to let them down. I don't want to let you down.

If you’re nervous about posting it on social media, then just share it with a small group of friends or colleagues first. Or just a single friend or coach.

For more accountability, try Focusmate, which I use everyday.

If I can dissolve 30+ years of writer's block, you can as well. I hope the tips shared in this post will be helpful to you.

To receive my best writings, via email, once a month, check out my free newsletter: George Kao's Email Newsletter