When I first created my blog, An Ontological Life, I wanted it to be an experience for my readers. I also wanted it to be an honest account of my self-doubt journey, with the ultimate aim of it becoming the story of how I have applied an onotogical approach in my every day life. I wanted my blog to be a blog that helped and inspired others. I wanted to provide some ideas that may be useful for other people and, most importantly, I wanted to provide people with access to the possibility of reducing personal suffering.
All seemed to be going well, until I had almost finished blogging my journey to date. At that point, my mind drew a blank. The words just would not come. Anything that I did manage to write just didn’t feel good enough. Regardless of how much I reflected and thought and slept on it, making those words “good enough” just did not feel like something that was available to me.
Finally, it occurred to me. I was experiencing writer’s block. My first reaction was to judge myself:
Great. I have blog followers to whom I feel I have committed to providing new content at least twice a week, and I haven’t met that commitment for a couple of weeks. And now, at the make or break point of this whole process, I have writer’s block. Well done, Deanne; well done.
My second reaction was to acknowledge the writer’s block and let the self-judgment go. Curiously, acknowledging the writer’s block seemed to help; it was as though naming it enabled me to accept it and start moving on. It was at this point that it occurred to me that perhaps I could forget my planned blog post for the moment. Perhaps, instead, I could seize the opportunity to apply the ontological approach to my writer’s block, and then blog about it. And so, this blog post was born.
The 5 Steps That I Used to Shift Writer’s Block
I love a good acronym, and so I pulled out my whiteboard and scribbled out the steps, in the hope that I could come up with a nifty and helpful way of describing the process that I used. Eventually, I arrived at “Declare and SOAR”.
Step 1: Declare Your Experience of Writer’s Block
I struggled for a few days with not being able to write. While I was doing that, I was placing more and more pressure on myself and I found myself being able to write less and less. When I finally allowed myself to declare out loud that I was experiencing writer’s block, it was like I gave myself permission to accept it and move on. After the initial self-judgement, I simply felt relief: I know what it is now. I will accept it. How do I move on?
What do I mean when I say to make a declaration? Well, I don’t mean keep mumbling to yourself in your head that you can’t write, which is what I was initially doing. I mean pause, and consciously declare that you are experiencing writer’s block. You can make the declaration to yourself or to others; verbally or in writing. In my case, I declared it to myself verbally and then I also declared in writing on my Blog Facebook Page.
Step 2: SOAR – State the Stories and Opinions that you Have Attached to Your Experience of Writer’s Block
When events happen, humans tend to create stories and form opinions that we then attach to those events. We often treat these stories as truth, and we start to live those stories from our apparent truth. For example, think about a time when you were running late in the supermarket. What stories and opinions surrounded that experience? Did you create a story about how you were being served by the world’s slowest checkout operator? Did you blame self-serve checkouts? Did you tell yourself that if they put the coconut milk in a sensible place, you would have been able to find it? These are all opinions (and opinions can’t be true or false). We attach these opinions and stories to events to give us meaning and, often, we are taking care of something within ourselves when we try to give that meaning. For example, perhaps I am blaming the checkout operator because that is taking care of my need to not judge myself for running late in the first place.
When we take a moment to understand the stories, we can unlock the potential to shift those stories to something that may be a little more useful.
With this in mind, I wrote down the stories and opinions that I had attached to my blogging. Below is what was relevant to me. Your stories may be similar and they may be different:
- My blog post must be perfect if I am going to share it with my readers. If it isn’t perfect, I can’t post it.
- I knew that this blog idea was only a phase and would never last. I have been waiting for it to end.
- I have to post every 2-3 days. If I don’t, my readers will think that I am not committed.
- I must chronologically blog my journey to date. Once I have arrived at the point where I have addressed all of the milestone points and have arrived at the current day, I can then move on to more random posts about how I apply ontology in every day life. Until then, I have to tick every milestone blog post off my list, in chronological order.
As I read through my stories, I realised that I was living them all as truth, and most of them weren’t serving me. For example, I didn’t have to journal chronologically; I could do whatever I wanted. And the blog would only be a “phase” if I let it be a phase. Once I understood the stories, it felt as though I was becoming free to think about my writing differently.
Step 3: SOAR – Observe Your Moods and Emotions
This may sound like an odd one, however our moods and emotions play an important part in determining the actions that we can take. So, taking some time to understand what moods and emotions are sitting behind our stories of writer’s block can be incredibly useful.
For me, I assess that my moods were anxiety and resignation. I was anxious about “getting it right” whilst also being resigned to “never getting it right”. I had started to think that, because the words weren’t coming out, there was no point because they would never come out. When I noticed these moods, I was able to ask myself why they were there, how they were serving me, and what other moods might be more useful.
Step 4: SOAR – (Pay) Attention to Your Body
It is, I think, quite amazing to notice just how much we embody our moods and emotions and stories. They become part of how we are holding our body and, without understanding this, it can be difficult to shift how we are being.
So, for my experience of writer’s block, I paused to look at what was going on for me in my body. What am I feeling in my body? What is feeling tense? What sensations am I experiencing? Where are my shoulders? My legs? My feet? How am I breathing?
Here is what I noticed:
- Shoulders rolled forward
- Torso closed
- Breathing shallow
- Tightness across chest
The next question that I asked myself was how my body was serving me. In my case, I have previously learnt that I am not in my most resourceful way of being when my shoulders are forward and my torso is closed, so I lifted my shoulders, pushed them back, and opened my torso. When I did this, I felt more at peace, and I felt as though the new stories and moods that I was wanting to create for myself were becoming more available to me.
This is something that really has to be experimented with and, with practice, you will start to identify body positions that feel more resourceful.
Step 5: SOAR – Reflect and Reset
The previous steps were really about research. This final step is about pulling it all together. In this step, I reflected on how each of my observations in the previous steps were helping me or not helping me. I then reflected on what stories, moods and body would help me to become more resourceful, and I worked at applying this learning. Once I had applied the learning, I felt able to move forward, and I likened this to resetting my structure so that it could help me in moving forward with my writing.
To assist with this step, I wanted to share what worked for me.
With regard to my stories, the key story for me seemed to be that I had to hold myself to my previously defined timeline; that there was no scope to move. The particular topic that I was trying to write about didn’t seem to me as though it was going to provide the value that I wanted to provide – or, perhaps more honestly, I didn’t feel as though I could provide the value that I wanted to for that topic from the way of being that I was in. So, I shifted my story to one that said that I didn’t have to blog my whole timeline. I could start writing about my current experiences right now if I wanted to; the timeline was not set in stone. Perhaps I could write about a different topic (hence this writer’s block post) and come back to my planned topic later. With this new story, there were multiple possibilities.
I chose multiple moods to accompany this new story: peace, ambition and wonder (curiosity). I was at peace about my struggle with writer’s block, enthusiastic and hopeful (both a form of ambition) about moving forward, and in wonder about what I would create.
All of this was brought nicely together by my lifted shoulders, open torso, and less shallow breathing.
This is one way of applying an ontological approach to writer’s block (or many of the brick walls that we face in everyday life), and it worked for me. I would invite you to adopt and adapt in whatever way works for you. There is no right or wrong to this approach, it is simply about understanding and applying what works for you.
Who am I?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.