You vow you are going to get up early and write. You grab a quick breakfast, put the coffee on and blinking the sleep out of your eyes, sit down at your computer, put your fingers on the keyboard, open up your project and stare blankly at the screen, waiting for the ideas to come.
You check your email. You scroll through Facebook (more than once). You command yourself to return to your word document.
The cat walks by and you scratch under its chin. You wonder if the dog needs to go out. You let her out and start watering all the flowers while you wait for her to do her business. You return to your computer. You look at the screen. You will yourself to type a sentence. It’s the worst sentence in the history of sentences. You delete it. You wonder if you should call your mother. No. Not now. Later. You make a deal with yourself that you will write a whole paragraph. Then you will call your mother. But first, you must check the mail.
This, my friends, is writer’s block, and my unofficial no-doctorly diagnosis is: you have it.
Writer’s block is frustrating. It’s annoying. You know where you want to be in your career: a writer with a couple of contest awards, stories in anthologies, novels, and a healthy fan club. But where you are now is something far short of that, am I right?
Well. Writer’s block is something most writers will experience in their careers. And there are a few important things to consider when you are trying to break out of it.
Writer’s block is a state of being. It’s not something that you experience one moment and you are fine the next. Like a bout of the flu, writer’s block tends to hang around for a period of time. This is what makes it so frustrating. It’s like not being able to sleep. You really want to do it. You need to do it. But it won’t happen. Constipation is a lot like this too, but well, let’s stick with the sleep analogy. If you look at writer’s block like treating the flu, you can nurse yourself out of it in time. But it’s going to be a multiple-pronged attack that will take time. So, here are my five tips for breaking free of writer’s block. Practice them every day as you would a recipe for the flu, until you are, well, recovered.
Take Care of Your Body
There have been several studies on how sleep deprivation affects creativity. Some of these studies show a definite diminishing of creative thought when the subject has been deprived of sleep, so one of the first defenses against writer’s block is to get more sleep. Going to bed early for the creative soul can be a difficult task. It takes great determination. Get yourself into an early bedtime routine. Take a warm bath with Epson salt and essential oils like lavender, which is good for calming the mind. Take a dose of magnesium, a spray or a drink power works best. Find the most boring book you can and settle into bed early. You can even find a sleep-inducing video on YouTube to help you drift off. Don’t fight sleep when it happens. Give yourself permission to sleep.
Stay hydrated. Brain cells need fluid and not the kind that comes with an olive and a twist of lime. I’m talking about water, water, everywhere.
Eat fresh foods. Eat fruit. Eat veggies. Smell deeply of citrus fruit. It awakes the brain. Take your vitamins. Especially iron, if you are a menstruating woman. Take vitamin C and your B vitamins. You need to give your brain the support it needs by nurturing your body.
Make the above a daily habit until you can really feel your brain pick up. Then maintain it.
Do Non-Creative Writing Daily
Writer’s block can stem from a kind of performance anxiety. It’s that feeling of needing to write, and needing whatever you write to fall perfectly on the page, every word a demonstration of pure effortless brilliance. We can get into trouble mentally because we feel we should be writing every day and creating a New York Times bestseller with every tap of the finger. When we don’t, we tend to want to retreat from the keyboard. This begins a vicious cycle of “I should be writing every day/ I can only write crap,” feedback loop. Since the best way to return to writing is to get in the habit of writing again, Non-creative writing (or any writing you don’t feel pressured to make perfect), is the perfect “fake it till you make it” solution.
So write a grocery list, write a laundry list, a spur of the moment bucket list, write a basic dairy, even if you just write about what the cat is throwing up, or the fact that you never get any chain letters in the mail anymore, that will be enough to get you writing.
It doesn’t matter what you write about, just write.
Heck, open up the nearest magazine and start copying down the words onto a piece of paper. Just anything that simulates the habit of putting words on a page—words you don’t have to labor over or care about.
It’s a funny thing about motivation. It doesn’t always come from thinking about it. It often comes from doing it. Haven’t you ever told yourself you should go on a walk, just to the corner and then you’ll come right back? Well, once you get to the corner and you’ve felt the Autumn sun on your skin, you’ve heard the birds singing, you’ve seen your cute neighbour ahead of you, well, you think to yourself, “this feels good, I’ll go for the next block.” Well, so it is with writing. When you are out there putting down words that you don’t have to judge, erase, rewrite, think about, it actually just feels good. And you’ll want to keep on doing it.
Buy Shiny New Toys
New toys! Who doesn’t love new toys? If you usually write on a computer, staring at a wall, it’s time to get new toys and go somewhere different. Hit up your local dollar store or your art store and grab a gel pen, or a calligraphy pen, or a sharpie, or a mechanical pencil. Then get a bargain basement (do they still have bargain basements these days? Nah, probably not) notebook. Not!—repeat—Not! a fancy bound notebook with some kick-ass Celtic design on it. Why? Because you’ll want whatever you write in *that* book to be perfect, and as we’ve established, perfect is a writer’s block does. We have to get unperfect to get through this, remember? And yes, unperfect is the word I want (even though it’s not really a word), and not imperfect. We actually want to undo perfection here.
Location, Location, Location
Now that you have your new toys, head somewhere fun and interesting to do your non-fiction, non-important, imperfect (now I want this word) writing. Some of my favorite places include coffee shops, parks, back decks or patios, beer gardens, libraries, and friends’ houses. Just anywhere that isn’t home.
And while you’re getting into the habit of visiting foreign places to write, you might try just visiting new places in general to spark your creativity. A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes. Exploring new cities, or heck, even the one you currently live in can be a great source of material, as you will no doubt experience different people, history, architecture, and scenery. Soon, you might find that you are creating scenes and stories that inspire you.
I can’t stress this enough. Read. When we read the works of other writers, we can’t help but be inspired. After all, how and why did we get the idea we wanted to write in the first place? I think for most of us, it was because we read an amazing story, or two, or twenty that captured in us the desire to weave a story that could move another person. It sparked in us the longing to invent our own stories. We caught the magic writer’s bug, so to speak.
So when you are stuck with writer’s block, one of the best things you can do is read, for when you do, your mind will begin to wander, or is that wonder? We wander and wonder: “What became of that walk-on character?” “What would happen if that character chose a different option?” “What if the book went in the direction I thought it would go, yet didn’t?” What if the character I’m reading about had one different element, and how would that make them unique?” All these wandering/wondering thoughts can lead you to be inspired to create your own ideas for characters and storylines.
Or heck, reading a book can just give you some escape. It can take the pressure off, while still keeping you plugged into your chosen field. It’s similar to a mechanic lifting the hood at a car show and peering in at a completely overhauled and rebuilt engine, or an artist visiting the Louvre and walking through hallways of classical art painted by the great masters. Reading books will inspire you in a gentle way, without making you feel guilty for not writing. It will subtly point you in the right direction and make you rediscover your love of a well-told story.
There’s one more idea I have for breaking yourself out of writer’s block, and that is using writing prompts and exercises. But that comes later, after you have worked with the above suggestions for a few weeks. In my next blog post, I will give you some ideas for writing prompts, so please come back and visit.
And one further note, there is actually nothing wrong with having writer’s block. Sometimes our brains need a rest. Sometimes we need to have a refreshing break. As Milton said, “He also serves who only stands and waits.” Just don’t wait too long. You have stories to tell. I know you do.
So have you, or are you now, suffering from writer’s block? Let me know in the comments below what helps you break out of it and get writing again.