Photo by Mike Tinnion

(Code)writer's block

Do you know the feeling of wanting to write code, or write a blog post, and then to be stuck? Your mind goes blank and all creativity is gone? Let's explore how mindfulness could be of help in such a situation.

There is so much wisdom present in all of us. A few days ago, someone on Twitter expressed frustration because of not being able to solve a problem. And the advice that was given by many people was to let go, do something else, sleep on it, relax. Basically it boils down to: when stuck, don’t keep on pushing. And the same applies to a writer’s block I think. We all have this wisdom, and yet it is so hard to put into practice when we are in the middle of it.

What are we actually experiencing in such a situation? Mostly negative thoughts. Thoughts perhaps like:

  • I should be able to do this
  • I don’t have enough time
  • What if I can’t come up with something?
  • What will other people think when I fail?
  • Why can’t I just creative?
  • I think I have lost the ability to write…

And when we experience negative thoughts, we usually either suppress them, or let them depress us. We become more determined, we push harder, become frustrated, or give up and get depressed thinking we can’t do it. Not ideal circumstances for creativity to flow freely right? For creativity to arise, our minds have to be free of fear. We can’t pretend the fear is not there. It will still be present in the background. We can’t fool our subconscious minds. So the only way out is to become comfortable with our fear, with our negative thoughts. To take care of them by allowing them. By breathing into them, by softening. When there are negative emotions, it is not the right time for creativity. This means that for now, we will have to let go of needing a certain outcome. We don’t need to write that awesome piece of code. We will survive without having produced that perfect blog post. Just let go for now. Stay open to the possibility that a solution will arise. At the right time. We don’t need to control the how and the when.

Let’s stay open to the possibility that, when rested and relaxed, something might have happened that sparked an idea. Perhaps our subconscious mind is processing all kinds of information and at the right moment that will generate the ideas we need. Maybe a completely different approach will spontaneously pop into our mind. Our conscious mind does not control the how and the when. Let’s find as many reasons as we can why what is happening right now, is just perfect.

Our mindfulness will keep us aware of our thoughts and emotions. The only real control that we have, is to notice when negative thoughts arise, and to take that as a sign to stop. And only go forward once our mind is clear again. Maybe we will have to wait a few hours, maybe a few days, and maybe even longer as was the case with my blogging. But we have to let go of the need to have it a certain way.

This blog site is a good example of how I personally struggled with writer’s block. I have always liked writing. But my ability to write has been blocked for a long time. Apart from journaling for private use, I haven’t been able to come up with good enough articles to show the world. A few years ago I started blogging about mindfulness. But after the first few posts, I completely blocked. I was afraid that people would think I was a know-it-all. I had alternating feelings of superiority and inferiority regarding my writing. Not wanting to come from a superior ego, I wanted to also show my vulnerable side. But then again I feared that people would find me weak. So I had to let go. And I did, for a couple of years. But I didn’t give up my desire to eventually write. The right time had not yet come.

Then in the summer of 2016 I decided to start a blog where I could post both technical articles as well as articles about mindfulness. Again, after the first few posts, I blocked. I had so much self judgement when the blog hardly attracted any readers. I couldn’t find topics to write technical blog posts about, because I felt that I didn’t know enough, or that everything had been written already. And as far as mindfulness, same old story. So I again had to postpone my desire to write until I had grown more as a person.

And now third time’s the charm. I have removed the pressure of time by giving myself an entire week to write a blog post. And I start writing on the first day so there is plenty of time for the article to be refined. Whenever I have a new idea for a blog post, I add that to my list of ideas, but I will not increase my pace of writing. This way I will always have something to write about. I know my fear of being judged and I also know it is just my ego bullying me with negative thoughts. When these thoughts come up I stop, acknowledge my feelings, breathe and relax and then I get in touch with the feeling of confidence. The feeling that all is well and I can write a blog post.

I had to have a lot of patience, of waiting many months to overcome my writer’s block. Looking back it shouldn’t have happened in a different way. My mindfulness is stronger now, I am better at letting go of negative thoughts. I trust my creativity more. And to be able to write a blog about mindfulness, it was a good thing to first gain more practice and experience myself. And that takes time.

What thoughts are you experiencing when feeling blocked? Are you able to be present with your thoughts? Feel free to share in the comments area.

Also, what would you like me to blog about that has a relationship with mindfulness and the life of a developer? You would help me greatly with growing my list of topics!

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