Write YOUR Next Chapter
You know the feeling, even if you aren’t a writer. You’re stuck. You know that wherever you are—in your book, in your career, in your life—isn’t where you want to end up. You want and need to move, to step forward, to write your next chapter, yet you have no clue where to go next, let alone how to get there.
We are all writing the story of our own lives, and we all want to make sure the ending is a good one. Sometimes, though, as we’re finishing up one chapter, we get a little bit terrified about what’s coming next—because there’s nothing coming next, just a blank page, a great big expanse of emptiness and the weight of having to fill it with something worth reading.
In writing and in life, how do you move forward when you’re stuck? Here are five steps to overcoming “writer’s block”:
1. Fill the well. Inspiration and a sense of direction don’t materialize out of thin air. I don’t care how much of a creative genius you think you are, your “original” thoughts are sparked by the things you see, hear, and experience. Staring at a blank page won’t generate ideas if you don’t have a bank of sights, sounds, and experiences to draw from.
We get so focused on getting by every day that we starve ourselves of nourishment for the mind, body, and soul. And please note that “nourishment” is not the same as “things I can consume.” I fall into the trap, too, of consuming rather than nourishing—instead of a nutrient-dense meal, I might eat fourteen empty snacks; instead of spending ten minutes reading an article that teaches and inspires me, I might spend an hour mindlessly scrolling Facebook. If you aren’t replenished after a snack or break, it didn’t do you any good.
So, if you’re feeling stuck, start filling the well with things that replenish you, things that feed your mind, body, or soul. It’s HARDEST to do this when you’re stuck and feeling anxious. You expect me to take a break NOW? I’ve got a deadline to meet!! Yet watching the sunset, reading a great work of fiction, getting an extra hour of rest, or spending time with friends can be exactly what you need to get ideas flowing and help you see what your next step in life should be.
Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone. Expand your perspective. The first step to changing your life is to expand your sense of what your life could be. Change YOU and your life will change, too.
2. Once you’re full of ideas, ruthlessly slash them. You would think that having all sorts of ideas would make it easy to forge a path forward—you just choose the best one, right? But what if they ALL seem good? It’s just as problematic to have too many options as it is to have none. You end up spinning your wheels and going nowhere.
As is so often the case, you need to prioritize. It’s easy to make choices when something seems obviously good and another thing seems obviously bad. It’s when we have lots of reasonably good choices that we become paralyzed. We want it all.
Maybe you feel stuck in your job, and you’ve come up with some ideas for your next chapter: ask for a raise, ask for a promotion, ask for a transfer, get a hobby and let the job be, look for a new job, start a special interest group, learn a new skillset… ALL good ideas. But if you try to do them all at once, or even a few of them at once, none of them will go anywhere. Look at your values, your current pain points, your strengths, your passions, and what excites and scares you (they often go together), and then…
3. Make a decision.
This is the quickest step. It takes exactly one second.
It’s getting to this step that takes ages. We neglect the first two steps and wonder why we don’t know where to go. Then we futz around and pretend to make a “decision” when really we’re doing an experiment. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting—just don’t kid yourself. Experimenting is an important part of Step 1, filling your well. But it’s not a decision.
With a decision comes commitment. It doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment. I’m not asking you to marry the next chapter of your life. But once you make a decision, you need to focus, work, and set some other “good ideas” aside.
4. Move. Do something! Act on your decision.
The key is to act on your decision, not just to move for the sake of movement. Many people hop from job to job, city to city, relationship to relationship, thinking it will change their lives when they haven’t changed themselves. You’re taking your same thoughts, habits, beliefs and patterns right on into that new job, city, or relationship. Nothing’s going to change, really. Except maybe your address.
When your move comes from a desire to grow and create something new, you’ll know it’s the right choice because it will scare the crap out of you.
Change is scary! Most of us pretty much hate it. Yet it’s when we’re scared and still courageously move forward that we grow the most. So do something.
5. Keep writing. Every skill gets easier with practice—that includes skill in nourishing yourself, making decisions, and taking risks. Skill in living.
Get into the habit of filling your well, prioritizing your values, making tough decisions and acting on them. You’ll discover two benefits: First, your bouts with “writer’s block” will be less frequent and shorter in duration. You’ll feel less stuck. Second, your confidence will grow. You’ll discover the power to change your life, so your decisions will be less scary. If you don’t like the current chapter of your life, you can make it a short chapter and write a new one!
What will YOU write in your next chapter?