Oh, it’s the worst thing ever. You know it. You sit down to complete an assignment (or you know, to write for fun) and you just. Can’t. Think. Of. Anything.
And the blinking cursor in Word threatens to destroy you once and for all.
Writer’s block happens to everyone. Everyone. I promise. You’re not the only one who gets stuck sometimes, or who gets frustrated with a project, or who wants to run screaming into the wind just to escape that blinking cursor.
There are, however, ways to combat writer’s block. Different things work for different people. Shall we?
Catherine and I are both big exercisers and know that it’s a great way to blow off some steam. If you have any athletic ability, or if you’re like me and have no athletic ability, but want to be strong and fit, try going for a run, lifting some weights, going for a swim, or hitting a gym class to burn off some nervous energy. Catherine is a boxer and a cyclist! I’m a gym class girl myself. Spinning and weight lifting are two of my favorites. Whatever exercise works for you (hey, Richard Simmons DVDs!) own it, do it, feel the burn, then get to writing (after you’ve showered, of course).
Some people try not to read when they’re in the middle of a writing project out of fear of accidentally mimicking the author they’re reading, but I don’t think it’s necessary to avoid reading when you’re working on something or trying to unblock your writer’s block. The trick is to read something that’s nothing like what you’re trying to write. If your story is a dark comedy, try reading a fantasy series. If you’re writing nonfiction, try reading something fictional and vice versa. If you’re writing a screenplay, read a few short stories. Just seeing how other people craft words might help jumpstart your writing process.
Surround yourself with writers who talk about writing-
I think this is probably the best option for me. Whenever I’m in a writing workshop of any kind, or when I attend a live reading, I go home with words swirling around in my head begging to be worked into a new story. Your community probably offers free reading events all the time and you don’t even know. A quick Google search is all you need to find out what’s going on in your area. If you have friends or classmates who are working on projects, you can get together and chat about your work, or the work of others. A book club isn’t a bad idea. Anything that gets you thinking and talking about writing can unblock you.
Listen to or watch something you love-
Many people–especially my students–LOVE music and feel very inspired by it. When I wrote my thesis I listened to nothing but Tom Waits and Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire. One of my stories shares a title with an Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire album, and I was tempted to thank Bird and Waits in my acknowledgements. I couldn’t have done it as well without them. My students are always telling me that they can’t write without something on in the background. Others are really inspired by great movies or TV shows. Who says that TV will rot your brain out? If you watch something that’s high quality and gets your wheels turning, why not?
Take a shower-
Think I’m kidding? This article explains the science behind why we tend to get such great ideas in the shower. The short of it is that shower time is often the only downtime the average busy person gets in a day, and it’s that “idle” time that helps ideas bubble to the surface of your brain. The article also links to this neat waterproof notepad for jotting down ideas in the shower!
Go for a drive-
Like the shower theory, when you’re driving your sub-conscious has a chance to come to the forefront because you’re not being bombarded with trying to multitask, unless you’re one of those people who texts and drives. Cut that out, keep your eyes on the road, and the ideas should pour in. I actually got some of my better ideas back in grad school on the drive home from writing workshop.
Do something you enjoy that you don’t normally let yourself do–
If you’re anything like me you probably feel like you’re “wasting” your time if you’re not being productive 24/7. I know that if I haven’t cleaned my house, completed my grading, worked out, finished my grocery shopping, done open-heart surgery, cartwheeled through a Mardi Gras parade, and cooked a fabulous meal, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. It’s important to have downtime though, and I’m realizing that more and more lately. Sometimes you just have to let go of being productive and go for a walk, or lay in the grass and feel the sun on your face, or stay inside to watch a season of Community even though it’s a beautiful day. Don’t be like me and hope you’ll get sick so you can have an excuse to relax for a day. Do something you really enjoy that’s not productive at least once a week, and I bet the ideas will come to you.
Go to bed–
Yep, along with helping you stay at a healthy weight and get better grades, getting a good night’s sleep can help you spark creativity. T.S. Eliot’s epic poem, “The Wasteland,” has been said to have come to Eliot in a dream. Sleeping will help your brain recharge, will refresh you, and if nothing else, you can always use your crazy flying dog zombie KISS dream as a starting point for whatever you need to begin writing about. Revision exists for a reason.
Try changing the narrator, tense, or point-of-view–
Whenever a student’s work is good, but seems to be missing something, I suggest a point-of-view, narrator, or tense change to jumpstart things. Many students find that switching from a third person narrator to a first person narrator suddenly opens up a flood of new ideas, whereas before they were only getting trickles. Others find that perhaps the narrator shouldn’t be the person telling the story, and another character is better suited for the job. I just edited one of my stories and found that it flowed so much better in present tense than past tense, even though I tend to favor past tense. You never know what a small change can do, so try some different things out and surprise yourself.
Next time you have writer’s block, don’t sweat it. Try some of these tips and see if any of them work for you. If you have any suggestions, please add them to the comments!