20 March 2016

Five Strategies to Combat Writer’s Block

Five Strategies to Combat Writer’s BlockWe’ve all been there—if a gun were held to your head, you couldn’t write another sentence. Yes, friends and neighbors, we’re talking about writer’s block. The condition so familiar to anyone who has taken pen to paper sounds so trite to those who has never written anything longer than a term paper. To the rest of the world, you’re just making stuff up and how hard can that be? For the person with writer’s block, it’s more akin to running out of gas in Death Valley. There’s a certain amount of panic tinged with desperation when our common malady hits. Those are usually followed by the what ifs? What if I can never write anything ever again? What if I can’t even write a Tweet? What if I can only write about a heroic cat who has a trusty unicorn steed? (No offense intended to those writing in the cat/unicorn fantasy buddy genre.)

Writer’s block is real to us and it sucks. Like remedies for the hiccups, there are scads of “sure-fire methods” to stymie our common foe. The trouble is nothing works for everyone and no two writer’s creative process is the same. The real first step is to jot down some notes when you’re on fire. Those days that ink flows through your veins and your fingers can’t type fast enough to get all of the thoughts out of your head. Make notes on what was unique about that day. Was it a certain time of day? Did you go for a walk that morning? Was there a news story that sparked that over productive writing day? If you make notes long enough for those good writing days, you’ll probably come up with some common denominators. Then when you have writer’s block, introduce those stimuli that have worked in the past.

If you haven’t been taking notes on behaviors that have induced creativity, here are a few things we’ve found that might knock a bout of writer’s block in the metaphorical head: 

1. Do something you hate.

Clean the house, rake leaves, go visit Aunt Hattie (who always tries to give you 20-year-old hard candies that taste like Vick’s VapoRub), or do whatever else you avoid like the plague. While this step might sound counter-intuitive, there is an elegant wisdom in performing a task you loath when faced with mental constipation. The chances are that while you’re carrying out your hated task, your mind will wander to stop you from thinking about the dreaded chore you’ve chosen. So what you’ve really done by “doing something you hate” is tricking yourself into a creative state. The bonus of this strategy is that you’ve probably needed to go see Aunt Hattie and have put it off for far too long. 

2. Get some rest.

There is a certain percentage of people that creatively thrive under fatigue conditions. If this applies to you, just do the exact opposite of the advice in this section. Without citing clinical studies and the age old wisdom of your mother, we all know that a good night’s sleep is a universal cure-all. Sleep gives you a chance to mentally reset, which is exactly what you need when faced with writer’s block. If you’re under a deadline or something else is preventing you from an eight-hour kip, take an hour nap. Thomas Edison supposedly took catnaps throughout the day and night just so he could clear his head and start fresh whenever the awoke. While that might be an apocryphal story, the theory is sound. A little sleep could just hit your creative reset button. 

3. Step away from the blinking cursor.

The taunting cursor is as good a visual symbol for writer’s block as any. The smug little intermittent box or line on your word processor taunts you with every on/off cycle. For all we know, the blinking might actually be sucking the words out of your soul. One thing is sure, get the hell away from the blinky thing. I’ve yet to run across a writer who actually said, “Staring at the cursor for three hours actually gave me an idea.” So close out of your word processor if you value your sanity. 

4. Fall in love.

“I’m writing about 18th century pirates and falling in love has nothing to do with my plotline,” you might be thinking. If you're already married or attached, falling in love again might seem like a horrid idea. Take heart, the falling in love step won’t land you in divorce court or sleeping on a friend’s couch. There’s something inexorably linked with the creative process and matters of the heart. This might possibly be because we want to impress someone with our writing. So if you’ve already fallen in love, do something for that special person in your life that reminds you of when you fell in love. If you’re single, go out there and take a risk on someone that you’ve been thinking about just a little too much. If you’re single and there are no prospects in your life, go to a coffee shop and strike up a conversation with someone you think you can make a connection with. If none of that fits your situation or your comfort zone, call up the friend in the world you love the most. You don’t talk to them enough anyway. At very least, do something nice for someone else, even if you don’t know them. The point here is that, hopefully, love stimulates creativity. In the immortal words of Kid Rock, “Now get in the pit and try to love someone.” 

5. Just say no.

There is always a temptation to enhance one’s creativity with various substances. Alcohol, energy drinks, Twinkies, cat videos on YouTube, or reading someone else’s work should all be no-goes during a bout of writer’s block. Whatever your vice of choice is, you’re already feeling low because you can’t write. Heaping some other unproductive behavior on top of the writer’s block can be disastrous. You’ll end up feeling hollow from the combination of both experiences. It’s also likely that what could have been a short stint of writer’s block will turn into a pity party hamstringing your writing even longer. Not to sound too airy-fairy, but if you’re involved with positive behaviors in trying to combat writer’s block, that same positive energy will help release the boa constrictor squeezing your imagination.

As previously mentioned in this post, there is no magic bullet to cure writer’s block. The only certainty about writer’s block is that it will happen. There’s little reason to get frustrated about something that is a certainty. Writer’s block could be the price one pays for creativity. Another way to look at it is that roadblocks do make a trip more interesting. So if writer’s block didn’t exist, would writing be as rewarding? If there was no internal enemy to face when writing, could one produce quality work? The more one treats writer’s block as an old college friend that wants to crash on your couch when he’s in town, rather than an enemy between our own ear, the better off you’ll be when it strikes.

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