How do you feel when you face a blank page?
Some days it’s not a big deal for me, some days it’s difficult.
When it’s good, writing and creating is like something fresh and vivid pouring itself onto the paper.
Then there’s the not-good times. The block shows up first in my body–as heat, as tension–it’s like I’m a thermometer and the red mercury of dread is rising up through me.
That feeling reminds me of exams I’ve taken where I sat, pen in hand, mortified as every drop of knowledge evaporates, leaving me stuck on a hard seat staring at the sheet of paper demanding answers from me.
Most of my experience of writer’s block is somehow related to false expectations. Set by me, or a someone else, as if I’m being examined and about to be ‘found out’ as lacking something.
I’ve developed a practice that helps me with all of these things, that is changing my relationship to writing, it’s called ‘noticing’.
Noticing is my way of dissolving false expectations, and tapping into what lies underneath all of that anxiety. It’s a way of claiming a small victory for myself. the small victory of starting. Which often leads to a snowballing effect–once I’ve pierced the crust of my anxiety I’m free to mine all the good that lies beneath it.
This Is How It Works
Start by writing the word ‘noticing’ at the top of your page, and begin to write whatever comes into your awareness, in this moment. Anything counts, if the pen is moving, this is working. There is no quality requirement here, we just record what’s happening in the moment, even that is just a starting point, if you veer away that’s fine, too.
Whenever you get stuck, or need a moment to regather, or simply want to follow a new train of thought write the word ‘noticing’ again keep the pen moving:
Noticing the boys walking outside my window, chatting away. The sound of geese? ducks? the light is low and I see grey through the window. The room is warm. Noticing tension in my head. At my temples. I’m tired and flat. Noticing the light falling on the page, how my hand casts a shadow over the tip of my pen and each word is written in shadow then moves into the light as my hand moves across
The repetition of the word noticing does a few things. First of all, writing the word noticing means that before I come up with my own first word, ink has already met the paper: no blank page. It sounds insignificant, but with writer’s block there are no insignificant victories. There’s writing, and there’s not writing.
The word noticing also gives me a focus, I have a clear simple action to perform, that keeps me from spinning my wheels.
I also like the rhythm of the word: ‘no-ti-cing‘. I often write it out a few times when I’m stuck and just enjoy that rhythm, and what it draws out from me:
noticing noticing noticing … a plane flying overhead, the small of my back is tight, I’m leaning forward in my chair, now shifting a little, my back has eased slightly , still tight. the window just brightened, the sun is out and there’s a mess of garden hose all lit up on the ground outside.
No grammar check, no spell check, no checking anything here. The exercise is all about getting the pen moving, and touching base with your present moment experience.
Noticing is for everybody. The great thing about this exercise is you can’t get it wrong, because you’re just recording what is coming into your field of attention as it happens. And also, you can’t get it right, because no matter how fast you write you can’t possibly capture with pen and hand all the things that are you are noticing in any given moment.
Ideas of right and wrong become completely irrelevant. Take that! Inner Critic.
It’s a great practice to begin a writing session–that’s my favourite use. I also find it calming, and will often ‘notice’ for a few minutes before writing an email, or filling out a form I’ve been stressed about, or even if I just want to sit and do some journalling (I never know what to journal about, so noticing is really helpful there. )
I’ll sometimes take a pen and paper out into the garden when I’m supervising my son’s play, too. It’s nice to sit out there with a cup of tea, do a bit of noticing, run around with the boys for a while, do some more noticing. It’s a great way to check in and touch base.
You can go as lightly or deeply as you choose to with this. Sometimes, I’ll start off noticing and hit an idea or a feeling that really draws me in and the noticing becomes something else entirely– a blog post, a starting point for a poem, or a painting.
Anything can happen.
And Hey! Did you know I’ve written a whole ebook on noticing for you?
It’s called ‘Notice Your Life’ and it’s free for you to download right now!
Just fill out the form at the bottom of the page, then hit that big orange button to get your copy delivered.
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I can’t wait to try this tomorrow!
Hi Jenny, hope it was a good experience!
I love this! I am also a motivational blogger and PRESENCE is something I speak about often. I have never tried the writing exercise though, and is something I want to implement right away. What a great way to get focused on the present moment. Excellent article!
That’s so great that you talk about Presence as part of your motivational speaking. I can see how that would be such a powerful concept in inspiring people to achieve. I hope you find the writing exercise helpful!
Yes I agree with your presence and writing skills. I always try to work on my writing. Since last year I am checking and noticing my writing skills. I will say improved 🙂 Great article as always:)
Yes, I find noticing to be helpful in improving my writing. Just the fact that it takes away some of the anxiety I have about writing helps to free me up. I enjoy your writing already, your blog is very engaging!
You’ve done it once again! Another post that seems to speak directly to me. When I am having a hard time getting out of my head and anxiety/fear/emotions take over, I become present… a noticer. I feel the hot water on my hands while I’m washing the dishes, I my bare feet planted on the hard wood floor, I listen to the sound of the water hitting the sink. Anytime, anywhere. It never fails to work. And to use it to help writers block? I just love it! Thank you for this!
I love all of this: ” I feel the hot water on my hands while I’m washing the dishes, I my bare feet planted on the hard wood floor, I listen to the sound of the water hitting the sink. Anytime, anywhere. It never fails to work. ”
So beautifully put, and what a great response to anxiety and other strong emotions; to ground into our physical body, to allow reality to hold us up.
Just today, I was staring at a blank screen. I did not have pen in hand but rather, keyboard. I wish that I had read this then.
It is rare that I become so paralyzed these days. Today, I just walked away and played a game of go fish. Weird but it worked. Right afterwards, I had 3 blog posts done.
Sometimes it’s just good to get up and walk away for a while, isn’t it? I think that’s a part of the noticing practice, too. We turn our attention away from the writing task and focus on our present moment experience for a short while. But it sure is good to know that a few hands of Go Fish can work wonders too! 🙂
Definitely going to try this next time I get writers block. 🙂
That’s great. Let us know how it goes!
What a great tip! Simply writing about what’s around you, and letting it flow. Thanks for sharing!
I love writing exercises like this. Having one or two of these to call on is great for turning off the negative voice.
This is a great idea and so simple! Just one word can spark so many others. I love that you’ve used the word ‘noticing’ and associated mindfulness to go with it. I’m definitely going to try this.
I agree that simply not staring at a blank piece of paper (or a blank computer screen) could indeed set many things in motion. I also think when I start to feel stressed just noticing what is around me might help me calm down. Great idea!
What a fantastic strategy! I can see where this would definitely help one slow down and focus on things that might often be missed. Thanks for sharing.
Very good and informative article. I use something similar with clients though I ask them to relax into the noticing. For example, when saying a word, also physically relax. It tends to dissipate the tension and blocks held in the body. I enjoyed the article, thanks for sharing it.