I’m in the camp that says there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Before you roll your eyes at me and stop reading, hear me out. There’s no such thing as writer’s block, but that doesn’t mean I never feel blocked in my writing (it happened with this very article, in fact). And it certainly doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with people who struggle to write 250 words.
When I say there’s no such thing as writer’s block, I mean the block isn’t with the writing. It’s with the ideas. To produce thousands of words in one sitting or even in one day, you need two things:
- The belief that those ideas are worth writing about
These two things happen to come pretty easily to me (also my ghostwriting clients lend me their ideas) and that’s one reason writing comes easily to me. But I believe anyone can learn to tap into ideas that are worth writing about. All you need to do is examine your die in a ditch beliefs.
What’s a die in a ditch belief?
The “die in a ditch belief” is a remnant from my days as a professional philosopher. See in philosophy, there are debates and then there are debates. Some debates are fun little exercises in thought where the stakes are low and the goal is simply to persuade others (I remember a debate, which may or may not have taken place in a bar, over the necessary and sufficient conditions for what makes something a game).
Other debates have higher stakes. In these cases, at least one person is arguing for a die in a ditch belief (DID). This is a belief that draws a line in the sand for her. She may have other arguments (in print or not), which depend upon this DID. It’s controversial, but she has thought about it from all angles and it’s a settled matter, as far as she’s concerned.
Sometimes it’s fun to wonder whether a philosopher actually believes in the position she’s arguing for. Would she actually die in a ditch for that belief? Or is she playing devil’s advocate?
Die in a ditch beliefs are useful outside of philosophy too. If you’re an expert in your field, people come to you because of your DIDs. It’s what differentiates you from other experts and from your competition, if you’ve turned your expertise into a business.
In fact, one of my favorite questions to ask my interviewees for my Own Your Expertise Interview series is “What’s your die in a ditch belief?” The answers are endlessly fascinating and varied.
Just check out this buffet of DIDs:
- Always live a life of integrity.
- When it comes to social media, businesses focus too much on ROI and not enough on ROE (return on experience).
- Kindness is the ultimate currency.
- Humans use stories to make sense of their world.
- PhDs often ruin people’s lives.
- If you want to change the world, don’t do it alone.
- Climb your own ladder — not the one society prescribes for you.
- Every “seeming problem” carries within it, the seed of the solution.
One of my die in a ditch beliefs is that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Another of my DIDs is that everyone has at least one DID.
How to identify your die in a ditch belief
Okay, so if the key to being able to write is being able to tap into a storehouse of ideas, how do you go about identifying your die in a ditch beliefs?
If you’re an idea person, like me, it’s easy. You may have even thought of a few of your own DID’s as you’ve been reading along.
As I said, everyone can identify at least one DID. You can certainly have more than one, but you’d have to be extraordinarily confident to have more than, say, 15 die in a ditch beliefs. Personally, I like to try on beliefs like pairs of shoes. So don’t be surprised if you see me vehemently arguing for one belief one day and for the opposite belief in six months.
But if you aren’t much of an idea person or taking a stance makes you feel a little squeamish, your DID’s might not be so obvious.
Here’s a quick writing exercise to try:
Step 1: Think about a time when you felt really certain about something significant in your life or at work.
Step 2: Write about that time for at least 10 minutes. Who was involved? What flashes of insight came to you? What did you do? How did it make you feel? What else do you remember about that time?
Step 3: Now zoom out and look at what you’ve written. What beliefs are evident in what you wrote? Are these your die in a ditch beliefs? If not, can you see your DIDs emerging?
What’s YOUR die in a ditch belief?
Whether you want to write short articles for your blog, newsletter, or industry publications or you want to write something longer, like a book, you can’t write anything without a good idea.
If you don’t already have a list of topics or big themes, start one! Then, take it a step further. Come up with a list of your die in a ditch beliefs. And the next time you want to create content, but you’re feeling stuck, pull out your list of DIDs.
For what it’s worth, that’s exactly how I wrote this article. I couldn’t think of anything worth writing about, so I went hunting through my lists of ideas and DIDs.
Feeling stuck? Ask yourself: “What’s my die in a ditch belief?”
Emily Crookston is the Owner and Decider of All Things at The Pocket PhD. She’s the ghostwriter for rebels, renegades, and mavericks. She loves helping experts who are long on ideas, but short on time write business books. Find out your writer type with her Writer Profile Quiz.