The Four Horsemen of Writer’s Block (and how to defeat them)

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Getting myself writing used to feel something like trying to start an old lawn mower. Occasionally I’d get it running right away, but most of the time it would take at least a few rips at the cord, and I was always aware that I might not get it to turn over at all that day.

This made it feel like there were days I could write and couldn’t write, and I could never do much more than hope it was the right kind of day. Some time in the last year I lost most of my fear of writing, or at least by now I’ve experienced enough of that fear that I can see it has a rather simple and predictable structure.

I’m not saying I’ve defeated it, only that I understand it enough that I can always get myself to the point where I actually write something. I still encounter creative fear every day, but it arrives in only a few predictable forms and I know what to do for each one.

There are four forms, and almost every day they ride out to confront me in the same order. I call them the Four Horsemen of Writer’s Block, but they are undoubtedly the same evil forces that stifle creators of all types.

Initially they come in disguise, seducing travelers away from the creative path. Often they defeat you without your even knowing it. Once you know their names and their strategies, you begin to see your encounters with them as an everyday part of your job that need cause you little trouble. But be careful. Even if you’ve defeated them a hundred times they will still be capable of tricking you — in fact, my overconfidence allowed the first one to outsmart me yesterday on the piece you’re reading.

Know which you’re dealing with and what to do for each. 

1. Tomorrow

The first horseman is responsible for the greatest number of casualties. Usually he alone is enough to defeat a given person. His persistence is the primary reason there are people who believe they have no creative ability at all. He keeps the majority of the population from ever even beginning to do their best work.

His name is Tomorrow and his first arrow is so sudden and penetrating that it can slay your creative spirit for the day before you even notice his arrival. Every subsequent day he attacks from farther away, until each assault can kill weeks, months and years of your creative life.

Across his breastplate his mantra is etched: “Now is not the time.”

His strategy: He wants today to look spoiled to you, so that tomorrow, next week, or next year seems like a vastly better time to get to work. When you notice it’s 11:17 and you’ve got nothing down, you begin to think that today’s energies might be better invested in laundry or errand-running. This is his deathblow, and it is so insidious it feels good.

His weakness: Tomorrow needs you to regard future days as your most fertile creative periods, making today look comparatively unsuitable for working. When you recognize that it is actually impossible to do work tomorrow, then you know to stay with your work until something starts to take form. Today is the only day you can ever work, and once you see this truth, he is defeated.

2. Later

The second horseman arrives in the quiet hours of the morning, when you still feel the abundance of a whole day ahead of you. He’s most effective when Tomorrow defeated you yesterday and you’re determined to work today, but still rattled. The prospect of creating is slightly scarier to you today than it was yesterday and it is this scent of blood that attracts your next enemy.

Later is well-dressed and generous, and the inexperienced traveler is drawn to him. He flatters you for your commitment and industriousness, and extols the principles of emotional preparation and the rejuvenating effect of play. The moment he senses your anxiousness about getting to work, he reassures you of the abundance of time. After lunch, after dinner, after the next episode of Orange is the New Black, there is a clear stretch of time to work, and you’ll be more energized and balanced then. Sometimes he will offer you cannabis.

His strategy: Later offers you gifts but they must be accepted immediately. He sells you on what appears to be perfect compromise — do whatever you like now, as long as you get to work right after after lunch, or right after dinner. It’s a nearly irresistible deal: at the time you accept the gift you believe are losing nothing, because you’ll simply do the same amount of work later in the day, and you get to enjoy a lovely treat right now.

His weakness: He can defeat you only if you never learn that work only gets harder throughout the day. Accepting his morning gifts weakens you in several ways simultaneously. Firstly, you’re using the day’s freshest hours to do its least demanding activities; secondly, you’re training yourself to expect the easy and fun part of the day to come before you begin working; and thirdly, some part of you knows that you have already sold out on your high expectations for the day, and the day becomes tinged with shame. Tomorrow will be upon you in an instant. If you do begin to work later, you’ll expect less of yourself and you’ll quit early. If you follow a policy of never accepting gifts of gratification before you’ve done enough work to be proud that day, he cannot win.

3. Distraction

The third horseman waits until you’re at your desk, having thwarted the first two opponents. Rather than sneak up to you, he rides in to the sound of trumpets and pyrotechnics. He wears a great blue cape with a white lower case “f” on it. On his tunic are embroidered his emblems of power: a coffeemaker, a sudoku grid, a banana nut muffin and a Reddit alien.

Though Distraction has been antagonizing writers and artists for centuries, his power has grown a hundredfold in the past few decades. In fact, he is threatening to dominate an entire generation of youth, who worship him by absently fondling a black or silver rectangle they carry in their pockets.

Those who write for the web are particularly vulnerable to his power, because he lurks in the very tools the writer uses.

His strategy: He wants to reduce your output by diluting your writing time with social media time, second breakfasts and daydreaming, so that you start to believe you need enormous blocks of time to produce anything. When you begin to despair at your inability to get anywhere, you will stop working for the day, leaving you ripe for all four horsemen to descend upon you when they please.

His weakness: Distraction works by enchantment. He doesn’t want you know you’re distracted until you’re too hooked on the distraction to quit immediately when you do realize. You have to learn what the in-the-moment sensation of becoming distracted feels like, and when you notice it, return your attention immediately to what you were doing, without “resolving” the distraction. It is easier to learn to do this in small stretches. Set a timer and declare the next thirty minutes distraction free. Snap back to the task at hand the moment you notice you’re not doing it anymore. This is a muscle you have to work.

4. Self-doubt

The final enemy often waits until you’ve actually begun to get somewhere. You may even be almost done a day’s work by the time you notice his long shadow creeping across your workspace.

Self-doubt stalks every creative and will appear at some point during every project. His figure is indistinguishable from Death — dressed in black with a bare skull for a face. Sometimes you just spot his silhouette on a distant hilltop, and then he will disappear, allowing you to finish. But you know you saw him and you are left unsettled about your work. Other times he may ride right up to you, unfurling a great black banner that says, “Everything you write is shit.”

Unlike his predecessors, who are satisfied with merely ruining your day, his aim is to get you to stop forever.

His strategy: To get you to give up on your projects out of the belief that you’re missing a crucial ingredient, typically talent or inspiration. Creatives who believe they’re missing something must either wait for it to come to them, or quit the pursuit altogether.

His weakness: Primarily, he needs you to believe that bad work is avoidable and that it threatens your good work. Self-doubt has trouble gaining traction with the writer who is unfazed by producing something he knows is bad. If you embrace your shitty work as a necessary component of getting to your good work, he begins to doubt his own effectiveness. Joel Saltzman’s analogy of writing as panning for gold is helpful — the gold is only ever found amongst many times as much sand. If you see the sand as being in the way of your gold production, you stop producing. Good writing needs bad writing, and the less resistance you have to one, the more easily the other comes.

Self-doubt is the most complex of the enemies to creativity, and it can come from a lot of different places. But having a name for the stifling force goes a long way towards continuing to work regardless of its presence.

***

Essentially, if you know which foe is stifling you at a given moment, it’s not difficult to defeat him. Expect them to come in this order, but be aware that they never really die. When you have trouble with one of them, often the others will reappear, even if you’ve already handled them that day.

I’m convinced now that these four enemies make up the entirety of everyday resistance to creative work, that they are predictable and that anyone can defeat any one of them on any given day. There’s really not much that can stop you if you decide you’ll keep working no matter who shows up.

***

Photo by Hartwig HKD

***

{ 61 Comments }

Scott November 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Loved this one! A very unique way of looking at the nature of procrastination. The line that most caught my attention was on self-doubt, “His strategy: To get you to give up on your projects out of the belief that you’re missing a crucial ingredient, typically talent or inspiration.” This is the one that seems to stop me the most, and typically before I’ve even started in on a project. I was wondering if you had any advice for dealing with this form in particular. So often I find that when I consider starting up a project, my knee-jerk reaction is a feeling of inefficacy. I KNOW on an intellectual level that if I just put in the hours and chip away at the goal I will make it eventually, but I don’t FEEL that certainty and so I always stop short. At any rate, as always thanks for a great read!

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David Cain November 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm

That’s always what I was looking for: certainty that I wasn’t wasting my time. You just have to give up on that as a prerequisite for sitting down and working. You can’t have that certainty, although you almost never regret having spent a few hours writing.

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Cecile November 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm

This is the first time I comment, but I have been reading your blog for a long time (yours and MMM are the only two ones I read).
I think this post is brilliant, I like how you describe very well what happens in every creative process (software developing is the same…). I like the solutions you give also. This is great, keep it up!

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Karen November 25, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Hi David
This post really resonates with me. Having given up working for “The Man” three weeks ago I have now taken over responsibility for scheduling my day rather than it being dictated to me. I am really loving the freedom that is allowing me. I also however have noticed a constant low level anxiety bubbling at the bottom of my gut. I have been falling foul of all four horsemen, particularly self doubt.
I open your posts with great curiosity at the moment and I know what I am looking for is support and validation of what I am experiencing in this uncharted territory.
Thank you for your openness and sharing.

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Tozan November 25, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Nicely done, David, a useful metaphor. I wonder if Self-doubt is perhaps at the bottom of the other horsemen’s attack–that we leave a project until tomorrow because we doubt we can do it well today; that we do it later because by then we might have better ideas; or become distracted because it’s easier than confronting a blank sheet of paper/word document. Indeed, there might be two flavors of self-doubt, closely related; one that compels us to procrastinate (what I describe above), and another that undermines confidence in what we’ve already produced (what I interpret you mean in your post). Either way, I like your approach, and look forward to trying them. Thanks for sharing!

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Mary November 25, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Ha! Isn’t it ironic? I am procrastinating by reading your blog today.
*sigh*
Back to writing.

;-)

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Ben November 25, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I hope this will help you deal with the fourth horseman: your blog is one of the most insightful places on the internet.

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Luís November 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I’ve come to realize that most of your articles are about a constant struggle between your consciousness and your inner self. This would serve as an example for people fighting all over the world. We spend our lives fighting our own private battles, how do we still have time to fight against each other?…

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm

That is true. Internal resistance is the biggest limiting factor for all of us, and it’s way bigger than just writer’s block.

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Luís November 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I enjoy your posts a lot, but more importantly I learn a lot from them. Nice job and thanks for the reply, cheers from Portugal.

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Zoe L November 25, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Reading this I realised at this very moment I’m engaged in an under-the-radar battle with Distraction, and maybe Self-Doubt as well (by letting the perfect be the enemy of the good). But now I have logged out of facebook (take THAT!) and, flexing my anti-distraction muscle (a limp band of flab), have resolved to go make some sand…..Thankyou!!

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Caroline Vidican November 26, 2013 at 3:47 am

But you conquered them all, and we are the richer for it!

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Jane Walters November 26, 2013 at 5:37 am

The horseman called Distraction is constantly at my stable door. I’ll just make a cup of tea, oh and maybe some toast. I’ll wash up while the kettle is boiling, and ooops the floor needs a sweep. Before I know it, an hour has passed on domestic distraction. Such an insightful post, and I think we would go a long way to find anyone who does not meet one of your 4 Horsemen on pretty much a daily basis.

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Glynis Jolly November 26, 2013 at 6:11 am

I have a horseman that isn’t mentioned in your list, Outside Interruption. I can cut myself off from almost any distraction that is my own. However, interruptions like the phone, or someone trying to talk to me will throw me for a loop every time. Yes, I can get back into writing once I’ve taken care of the interruption, but usually there is more than one, two, or even three. At that point, I’m a little upset and need time to get over it all.

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Julie November 26, 2013 at 7:23 am

David~ you are my guru :) What a great piece!!! Clearly, you have tackled these pesky beasts. I continue to hang out with them regularly~ dagnabbit. Their moves are so cunning and ninja-like… and oh, that second breakfast!! Ha! In all seriousness, this is a terrific piece on having dominion over your intentions and goals, and one that I *so* needed to hear this rainy morning. *tips hat, bows humbly*

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Lorraine James November 26, 2013 at 7:54 am

I’m participating nanowrimo this month & this is perfect reading for anyone struggling to complete their novels.

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Hi Lorraine! I should have posted this a month ago. So many would-be great novels that never happened…

I’ll do a special for next year.

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Nathan M November 26, 2013 at 8:19 am

This is great stuff! Now let me get back to w–oh look, Seth Rogen and James Franco parodied the new Kanye West music video. -_-

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:16 pm

When I read this I pictured Seth Godin and James Franco

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Trisha Scott November 26, 2013 at 9:13 am

As usual you have taken complex and sticky human truths, distilled them down to their essence and passed your insights on to us. You have a valuable and unique brilliance in that work. I’m glad you have made yourself free to pursue that and succeed in spite of the damned horsemen.

My favorite line in this post is, “Self-doubt has trouble gaining traction with the writer who is unfazed by producing something he knows is bad.”

I would say all of these horsemen plague most people in most areas of life if they are trying to live with integrity. I know this last guy, with his mission to instill self doubt, has slain many, no matter their field of endeavor.

I once knew a man, an ordinary man, who was making a violin. As a violinist with a huge sense of the godliness of that instrument, I was shocked that a mere mortal, with no training as an apprentice even, would attempt such a thing. It must have showed on my face. He said to me, in response to the look that must have been there, something that sort of shook my world. He said, “I figure there are thousands of really bad violins in the world and it won’t hurt much to have another.”

I wish that I, as a violinist, could have applied that to playing music. I never quite got over feeling horrible if my playing didn’t live up to the music in my head which was always better, seemed better anyway, than any mere mortal could achieve in performance. That misunderstanding stifled much of my joy in my career as a musician. Happily it did inoculate me against the problem in my latter endeavors. I no longer fuss over what I write OR what I do. It’s just what it is.

Your guideposts may prove to be very helpful in keeping some from spending too much time getting deflected from work they have a talent for and love doing. Great post.

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Hi Trish. All of these points do apply to just about any pursuit that generates internal resistance, which I think tend to be the ones that are most important to us. I guess the battle with the horsemen is essentially the struggle to live up to our values.

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NickG November 26, 2013 at 11:39 am

You should check out the book “the war of art”. Has some amazing insight on the subject.

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I have read The War of Art, as part of my current experiment (http://www.raptitude.com/50-books-in-52-weeks/) and I thought it was brilliant. It’s such a quick read that I don’t think it had time to fully marinate my brain — I think I ought to read it regularly. But yes, he does make resistance into an enemy, and I think that’s the best way to think about it. Otherwise it looks like it’s circumstances doing it to you.

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NickG December 2, 2013 at 11:10 am

I agree about the quickness and not fully marinating my brain as well. Maybe I’m due for another read, myself. Resistance is alive and well in my days.

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nrhatch November 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Writing IS my Distraction from all the other things I “should” be doing.

I easily put off cleaning, laundry, dusting, exercise, cooking, and making phone calls until Later, or Tomorrow (next Tuesday at the latest), to carve out more time for Writing. :mrgreen:

Self-Doubt is not an issue for me either. It’s the JOURNEY of Writing that holds appeal. I don’t much care about Having Written or the Making a Name for Myself or . . . any of the other external indicators of Success.

I just want to be Happy as the path unfolds before. And Writing is the best means I’ve found to that end.

Other than chocolate, of course. ;)

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Well, from the other side of that conundrum you sound pretty lucky. Most people clean or do laundry or other easy tasks to avoid the emotionally demanding ones. If you can’t help but write, and you enjoy the process more than the product, that sounds like a pretty good place to be :)

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Andy November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm

David, this is quality stuff. Really insightful and useful take on a much written about subject.

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Ted A. Moreno November 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Great post! A very unique take on a subject that nobody seems to be writing anything new about. You put into words what everyone has experienced.
Really liked this one.
Ted

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LennStar November 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm

You should have posted this at the start of this years NaNoWriMo and not near the end of November ;)
I have to set a reminder for next November 1st to re-read it.

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Next year I’ll expand on this for the beginning of Nanowrimo.

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Madison November 26, 2013 at 12:56 pm

This post is brilliant. I struggle with distraction, myself. But it almost makes it easier to fight if I picture it as a person bent on stopping me from writing.

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:28 pm

It really does help to identify distraction as a single opponent. You get used to its tactics, and honestly it doesn’t have a whole lot of brilliant ideas. It just does the same things it always has, but you need to be consciously aware of them in order to know when you’re getting throttled.

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Mary Jo November 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm

OMG, every single day these guys show up! I recognize them intimately in your post. Now to recognize them as they show up each day. (And my mind is yelling “NO!!!” as I type this. Its so wants the bright shiny objects.) For me its about my art. I co-own a small gallery and live by my art. The mandate to keep the space filled and looking good will often override their voices. I often think, “What would happen if I just spent a bit more time on my art?” (A thought at bed time, of course.)
Anyway, I’m printing this out and posting it by my computer – the biggest “bright shiny object” of them all. Thank you!

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David Cain November 26, 2013 at 4:32 pm

I’m adjusting to a self-employed workday now, and I find the most important part is to have strict hours where I’m on watch against these four troublemakers. I can tell at least one of them is around when I start to get a feeling of shame or disappointment. That’s usually the first clue. If I’m conscious enough to think of the horsemen, it’s not hard to recognize which one is currently troubling me and the solution is usually obvious. Close up the browser, remind myself what I’m trying to accomplish right now, and beware the temptation to pack up and do it later.

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Mary Jo November 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Back when I first left the “real” work force and found myself stopped around taking action, I’d make myself get a newspaper and start looking through the employment ads. That was like a fire under me!
You’ve created an expected audience (as I have at my gallery.) Yesterday I was thinking, “Hey! When was the last time Raptitude came through?” It helps me anyway, when I know someone’s watching.
I’m a life coach, too. Have been for years. I find your coaching incredibly straightforward and insightful. Follow it and it WILL make a difference. Totally agree – if I can recognize the voice of one of the Horsemen, I have then have a choice. I do NOT want to lose the freedom of working for myself!

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Ahmad January 15, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Hello David,
Your article is really nice for people dealing with procrastination, but it doesn’t only have to be for writing. It can be for any work you are doing. I would like to post your article in my work place.
Can I have your permission and change the context of the article to be surrounding work instead of writing?

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David Cain January 16, 2014 at 3:54 pm

After I published this I realized that it is totally applicable to procrastinating on anything, not just writing. I would appreciate if you didn’t change the article though. Just maybe include a note that it’s meant for writing but applies to everything else too.

Jacq November 26, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Piers Steel discusses this in his book – The Procrastination Equation. The “formula” for procrastination is:

Motivation = (expectancy x value) / (impulsiveness x delay)

The key to resolving it is to figure out which part is causing the trouble, as you have done.
If it’s low value does that mean it’s boring, painful or difficult? If so, gamify it or connect to intrinsic values.
If low expectancy and you doubt that this will pay off, either because you (think you) suck or the odds are against you – ie. do you have to wait a long, long time for the reward – if it ever comes? (Novels fall in this category.) Give yourself small and achievable goals that guarantee some kind of payoff.
Are you too impatient or impulsive – ie. prone to distraction? Pre-commit, develop habits, set specific goals and sub-goals.
If you’re prone to delay – delay the reward and break the project down into chunks.

The best book I’ve read on writer’s block is Hillary Rettig’s “The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism and Writer’s Block”.

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John November 27, 2013 at 11:05 am

Fresh take on the barriers for writing! To me, it seems as if these four factors tend to be our “default” setting. When I write, I sometimes think, “Who the hell I am to be an expert on ‘X’ subject? No one will read this and grow! Don’t be ridiculous!” This self doubt is tough to overcome because we live in a society that is constantly telling us we need to be slimmer, look better, have the next hot gadget, etc. When it comes down to it, our words and actions are what matter. What if we reset the default to, “Of course people will believe in me! How could they not?” This type of positive thinking would pay us back in more ways than any monetary good or service could provide.

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Terri Lynn November 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm

LOL, I’ve taken three days to read this! Its been open in my browser and I keep coming back and trying to finish it.

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Jackie November 27, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Oh, I know these guys well. Later and I are BFFs.

This really applies to any sort of productivity and how procrastination happens. I’m a graduate student, and I find that Later tends to step in when I need to get a few hours of work done on a weekend. I’m usually way happier with my day if I get up, have coffee and head over to lab right away. When Later starts talking about breakfast and then second breakfast and leveling my thief up a bit in Skyrim and then lunch. Before I know it, it’s three-thirty and the two hours of work I have to do are still not done, and I feel more annoyed about having to go to work than if I had just gotten it out of the way early.

This was a great read and put things I wrestle with into perspective in a really clear way. Thank you.

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Barb November 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm

This might be my favorite of all of your essays and I love them all so that is high praise. I read it to my (retired) husband who said that “distraction” has a partner in crime and that is “forgetfulness”. He gets distracted by something and then forgets what he intended to do until much later. Self doubt is my most frequent visitor and he/she never fails to remind me that anyone could do what I do and I am not doing anything special at all.

Thanks for helping us to name and to identify these soul sucking plagues.

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Zsuzsa November 27, 2013 at 5:38 pm

The most poetic piece I ever read in this topic. :) Amazing stuff and very useful. Thanks.

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Barb November 27, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I just realized that the Four Horsemen sabotage other endeavors besides creative ones. I was on my way out to dinner tonight with my husband when I had a familiar argument with myself about getting back to eating a vegetarian diet. “Tomorrow” whispered that the restaurant I was going to didn’t have many vegetarian choices and besides, I loved the chicken salad. “Later” reminded me that tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I couldn’t possibly eat a vegetarian meal then. “Self Doubt” told the other two that I am all talk and not capable of making permanent changes.

I ate a vegetarian dish for dinner and will tomorrow too. I intend to look for stumbling blocks that may be thrown out by the Four Horsemen and I thank for helping me see them.

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George November 28, 2013 at 4:15 am

Great article. I wonder if it would be possible to work around these another way. Instead of basically trying to persuade yourself to keep pushing by using logical argument, what if we could jump straight to the end result without playing that game.

Not jumping straight to the writing itself, but to the ‘feeling’ that precedes it, of having being persuaded and now beginning. In the same way actors and dancers might use visualisation or ideokinesis or similar to summon the feeling of being a character and then let the appropriate actions flow from that feeling, could we just forget all that self-persuasion and just change posture and ‘become the writer’ and get on with it? Get straight to the post-persuaded state and get going?

I think a lot of avoidance isn’t just about avoiding doing something, but specifically avoiding doing something that we’re not in the right state to do. If I am currently ‘sofa George’ then trying to do writing will feel forced initially and I will try to avoid it, even though I know that after tapping away for a few minutes I will gradually morph into ‘writer George’ through the act. If I can adopt my ‘writer George’ persona first, however, then swapping the sofa for the desk will come more naturally.

Not sure that was very well explained…

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kate January 5, 2014 at 8:19 pm

It was……and a great slant on this thing. Sometimes i feel like i wish I could just tap into that feeling…..the one i WANT to feel, that propels me to the task, and never even have to engage with the resistance thing. There must be a lot involved to be so E-volved….lol

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Robb November 28, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Dude. I’ve been waging war with these guys lately. Thanks for calling me out, cause you’re right, putting a name to it makes it easier to fight. Into the breach!

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Kevin Cole November 29, 2013 at 9:51 am

Quadruple yes on this. I’ve been writing for a living off and on for almost a year now and these things definitely rear their ugly head.

Another great way to tackle self-doubt is to realize that the true measure of a good writer isn’t his writing, but his editing. This helps me write even when my brain is saying “This makes no sense!”

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Greg November 29, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Great post. These Four Horsemen are the same jerks keeping me from working out!

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Leo December 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

That stupid black banner! It is really powerful. It kills the fire. And reinforces the power of the other three for days, weeks, months…I’ll take that gold analogy, thanks! :-)

Oh! and your example of course! You have been fighting them and winning for a long time now. Good for you…wonderful for us! Thanks for sharing.

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Basil Stathoulis December 3, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Great article. It’s a battle to write. Well done for keeping at it and encapsulating the foe so succinctly!

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Caity December 4, 2013 at 4:19 pm

This is wonderful. So beautifully written and expressed!

I tentatively offer another horseman, but he’s quite specific. He seems to be born with the placenta of your first-born. He’s the one that makes your whole soul/being/force rush out of your body and towards a small human every time you hear its particular cry. It doesn’t matter how involved you are with your work, how deeply enthused and even ecstatic about your current project, he will take every shred of attention you have and direct it towards said small human.

Which would be fine but it doesn’t seem to leave even after the small human is now large enough to get its own damn sippy cup.

He seems to be hormonal.

The only strategy i have found thus far is full-on painful immersion therapy. Sitting in the living room with the TV on and kids killing each other on the couch and trying to concentrate while feeling in to this horrendously painful desire to get up and make it stop. I just burn burn burn on it.

And – I am making progress.

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Maxim P. December 7, 2013 at 2:14 am

Have you heard Die Vampires Die from the Broadway Play [Title of Show]? I recommend it to everyone; just google it. Very similar to your article, but with music!

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Angelina Brighton January 7, 2014 at 6:33 am

This is absolutely brilliant. I especially love the part about self-doubt. This is the sneakiest one of all. Thanks David.

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Carter Smith January 12, 2014 at 3:29 pm

The Four Horsemen remind me Cherie Carter Scott’s Yabut.
A Yabut is an ugly rodent that
“Eats Hope and Shits Fear”.

The Four Horseman are sly seducers that
“Eat Accomplishment and Shit Misery.”

I am now on the watch for their seductive delusions.

Thanks, Carter.

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Emma January 13, 2014 at 4:18 am

I’ve read probably one hundred essays on writer’s block and creativity doubt-busters, but none of them have made me laugh out loud, certainly not as much as your article has. Thank you for putting this out there, it’s something every writer needs to hear. Especially those of us trying to make a go at it in this day and age. Distraction is lurking in every corner of my tool, the tab of the browser longs to be clicked and opened and turned into something new and flashy.

Thank you David,
I am so happy to have found your site.

Keep writing!
Cheers!

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Mister Chu January 28, 2014 at 8:22 pm

“Sometimes he will offer you cannabis.”

Lovely timing.

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Mike Pesut January 29, 2014 at 6:20 am

Genius….
Your self awareness and savvy of the human condition are truly astonishing sir.

Thank you

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Russell Schirtzinger February 11, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Thank you, I see all of these in myself daily. A new way of thinking about it may be just what I needed to get past my own slump.

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John Scherber February 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I stumbled into writer’s block in 1968 and didn’t get out for 37 years. This is one experience that led to my book of writing tips, A Writers Notebook: Everything I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was Starting Out. Writing it, I imagined the self I am today, after 19 books, standing next to my younger self, ready to answer any question. There’s a sample on my website:
http://www.sanmiguelallendebooks.com/writernotebook.html

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José March 31, 2014 at 8:59 pm

I would add a fifth horseman to the list: Fatigue

It is not easy to keep working after an 8-hours (or more) work day. Sometimes I think it’s Later or Tomorrow attacking me but it turns out I’m just tired.

His strategy: It’s easy for him to make you forget about any reason you have for working on your own things after a crappy-corporate-work-day. “Oh, what a hard day, this guy deserves three hours of tv on the couch”. He makes of the tiredness of your day job the only thing in your mind.

His weakness: It’s hard for him to beat people avid to exploit every free second in things they love to do. You can keep on hand a list with all the reasons why you’re working on that project and use it as inspiration when you feel Fatigue coming around.

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