Every writer has those days of inspiration and energy during which the words seem to come faster than the thoughts preceding them. Those days, writing is pure joy and seems nothing like work but something more akin to purpose. Its these days when writing is easy that we create some of our best material. It is often not on these days however, that we need to generate articles to satisfy assignments we previously accepted or were awarded.
The days with looming deadlines, or worse, those days with a “to-write” list but no deadlines, are the days that writer’s block sets up camp in your office and grins from the dark corner while you struggle to type a simple sentence. These days, which every writer will suffer regardless of experience, age, or volume of published word, are the days we need most to be able to switch on the creativity and inspiration and of course, seem least able to do so.
Luckily, with a little patience and practice, these days can be transformed into days of productive creativity. Every professional writer will have a personal strategy for dealing with writer’s block. These strategies could broadly be put into one of two categories: 1. Work through it, and 2. Walk away.
Work Through It
These strategies are most important on those days of looming deadlines, when you need to turn the creativity on and get to working immediately. The gist of these strategies is simple: write. Just start writing. You can write about anything, from a re-cap of what you did yesterday, description of the scene outside your window, a child hood memory, the plot to a movie or a show you watched, or pretty much anything else. Different writers will have different preferred topical starting points, but the basic idea is to take the focus away from what you are struggling to write, and jump start your writing by engaging something that doesn’t require inspiration or creativity. Like jump-starting a car, once you get started, inspiration and creativity will usually take root and begin to emerge. Then, after however long it takes or simply when you feel inspired, you can come back to the piece that you struggled with, and often from a different angle or with new insights.
While obvious enough, many writers won’t walk away because it feels like admitting failure. It is, after all, unproductive to wander off and do something else while you know you should be writing, right? But that is not necessarily the case, especially if the time you spend trying to write is not productive either. Then, walking away can be the most productive action.
The point is to get your mind out of the uncreative, unproductive rut that it is stuck in. During these times, you know you are just spinning your creative wheels, but you think, “how can I get anything done if I stop trying?” Sometimes your mind just needs a break. It needs a chance to think about something else, to look at something else, to not spin its wheels. Specifically, try treating your tired, struggling mind to some quiet time sitting in a park, or maybe reading an enjoyable book. Call up a friend for coffee, or go for a walk. Exercise has numerous life enhancing benefits in edition to breaking writers block, but can be especially effective at doing so resulting from the flood of feel-good endorphins. Running, cycling, walking the dog, or playing tennis against a wall can be just what your brain needs to re-boot.
What to Avoid
Food, number one. It is human nature to address stress with eating, probably a survival mechanism from ages ago when bags of chips and boxes of cookies were not readily available. These days, however, walking away from your writing to eat can have many unwanted consequences (health related, financial, and emotional). Not to mention that it doesn’t help your mind get away from the problem, but instead, has the exact opposite effect of leaving your mind right in the middle of the problem while letting your body off the hook to gorge itself. So avoid snacking or eating between meals while struggling with writer’s block.
TV. Like eating, TV is not particularly helpful for writer’s block. It does at least allow your brain to get away from the problem it was struggling with, but TV watching is deceptively passive: not much is required of your mind, so it just sits there, often doing much the same as what it was before, which doesn’t help. You may feel like you have walked away from writing, but you haven’t gone very far. Getting out of the house, by comparison, seems to force your brain into a different mode in which it is not simple watching the world passively, but interacting with it.
Next time you experience writers block, and you will experience it, experiment with the different strategies described here. Try them on for size, so to speak, and see what works for you. Also, be willing to try other strategies, other activities, other approaches. After all, thinking about what you can do besides writing will in itself force your brain out of the rut, and that is in fact all that is needed.