If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I don’t believe in writer’s block as a long-term or chronic condition. The main problem I have with the concept is that “writer’s block” is a broad label that our culture applies to a myriad of problems — all of which have a unique solution. It’s the writing equivalent of saying that someone is “sick” — it’s impossible to know from that label if a person has cancer or a case of the sniffles.
Much of what people describe as “writer’s block” stems from anxiety, self-doubt, or burnout. But there are times when many of us feel “blocked” for an afternoon or a day, and we desperately need a solution.
I write for a living, and I can’t afford to lose an entire day to writer’s block. Here are a few of my foolproof tricks for massaging the creative mind so that I can get back to writing:
1. Get out of the mind and into the body. As writers, we primarily reside in our own minds. Even when we are doing mindless things like washing the dishes or scrubbing the floor, we tend to daydream. But sometimes, our minds can be our worst enemies. We end up going round and round the same problem or worry without being able to think of a solution.
This is when it’s a good idea to get out of our own heads and move the body. Go for a walk, run, practice yoga, or even just do some deep belly breathing. I find that when I am focused on what my body is doing, my brain is able to relax enough to allow ideas to flow again.
2. Go outside. If you can combine number one with number two, you’re going to double your benefits. But even just stepping outside and basking in the sunshine for a few moments can yield enormous benefits. Something about the sun and fresh air not only rejuvenates us; it also seems to bring a fresh perspective.
When I’m feeling burned out and stressed, I like to take my dogs for a hike or go into the mountains for the day. Nature is like a balm to my mind, and I never feel richer than when I’m standing in the trees with million-dollar views.
3. Hop in the shower. We can’t always stop our whole day to take a shower, but the expression that we get our best ideas in the shower seems to hold true. “30 Rock” fans will remember a episode in season six called “The Shower Principle” when Jack Donaghy explains how our best ideas come to us when our brains are distracted from a problem long enough to produce a solution (often in the shower). Personally, I think this is just another example of getting back into the body, but whenever I shower at the end of the day, I am able to relax and come up with fresh ideas.
4. Meditate. According to the authors of “Wired to Create,” open-monitoring meditation has been shown to boost creativity. Open-monitoring meditation is the type of meditation that emphasizes being fully present with thoughts and watching them as they arise (rather than trying to shut out thoughts altogether). I meditate every morning, and I find that this practice has been instrumental in nurturing my creativity and allowing me to produce a huge body of work in a short amount of time.
If you still aren’t convinced, Steve Jobs said that meditation was his main source of creativity, and the Beetles went as far as India to find a spiritual awakening through Transcendental Meditation. (This sparked one of their most creative and productive periods when they were able to write 48 songs.)
5. Free-write. It may sound counterintuitive, but writing when you can’t (or don’t want to) write can sometimes be the best medicine. Set a timer for ten minutes, start writing, and do not pick up your pen or stop for that entire time.
It doesn’t matter if you start by writing “I don’t know what to write” five times in a row. Eventually, the motion of your hand writing will communicate to your brain that you’re just going to keep spewing gibberish until it decides to cooperate. Good prompts to start with include:
- “I’m thinking about…”
- “I’m not thinking about…”
- “I am here because…”
- “Instead of writing, I wish I were…”
6. Eat something — seriously. Your brain runs on glucose, and it’s the most energy-demanding organ in the body. Sometimes our brains turn to mush because we haven’t eaten anything all day, and our blood-glucose levels are too low.
But before you reach for a sugary snack, think twice. Too much glucose ages our cells (including brain cells) and can do long-term damage. It’s better to nosh on low glycemic index foods (like veggies) and eat small frequent meals that are high in protein and those good fats you find in things like fresh fish and avocado. While you’re at it, down 16 ounces of water. You’re probably dehydrated.
Do you have any tips or tricks for getting unstuck when you feel blocked? Please share them in the comments below!
Photo by Dave Webb