How to Get Past Writer’s Block
Some people claim there is no such thing as writer’s block. That all you have to do is sit down and keep writing and that claiming you’re blocked as just procrastination or avoidance.
I beg to differ. Sometimes, it seems as if the writing part of your brain is hibernating.
Writer’s block is a vicious circle. When you feel blocked, you don’t write and when you don’t write, it exacerbates the writer’s block. Writing is a muscle — the more you write, the better you get at it — and it gets atrophied when you don’t use it.
Here are some tips for breaking through the block.
If there’s a lot going on in your life — stress, chronic illness, small children, a day job — can get in the way of the creative process. Because your head is busy. I once saw a documentary about the spaces in which writers work and one man had a small beige room with a brown veneered desk facing that beige wall. Nothing else. Because distractions would do just what they’re designed for: distract from writing.
Our brains thrive on stimuli. There’s a theory that we dream because our brains are bored while we sleep, so they make up little movies. The same can work for writing. Eliminate as much stimuli as you can. Close down your email program and your browser, turn off the phone, and close the door. Then place yourself in front of whatever you use to write and stay there until your brain gets bored enough to make something up.
Change it up
One of the ways that you can announce to yourself that it’s time to write is to create a habit of showing up at your desk the same time every day and not moving until you write something. But for the days (or weeks) when that doesn’t work, change it up.
If you normally sit at your desk to write, try standing up. Try using the record function on your phone or digital recorder and talk instead of write. This also allows you to pace while you’re talking/writing — sometimes moving physically can make your brain move, as well. You can also try going somewhere else, like a coffee shop or the library.
Exercise? Nah, I’d rather read a book… That’s the traditional stereotype of a writer, isn’t it? But that thing about the mind-body connection really is true. You can’t exist in just one or the other. Take good care of your body by eating a balanced diet rich in brain foods.
No, not real brains.
Certain foods can help hone your memory and focus. These include oily fish, nuts and seeds, blueberries and blackberries, and B vitamins. Then go move your body. For those of us with a chronic illness, that can be gentle exercise, such as swimming, walking, and yoga. If you’re able, do more.
Just as you move your body every day, you should also exercise your writing muscle every day. Practice morning pages — put pen to paper and write without editing for half an hour. If you have a chronic illness and have limited energy, try writing prompts. Pick three words or concepts and write on them in the same way for five minutes. If writing by hand is hard, use voice recognition or type — the point is to exercise that muscle.
Write something bad
Writing is one of the best things you can do if you want to doubt yourself, erode your self-esteem, and get more than a little weird. And that gets even stronger when you’re blocked. Suddenly, every word increases in importance, while your inner editor is as a vicious as Edward Scissorhands’ evil twin. Every sentence or paragraph you write is shite, you feel unworthy of writing even a personal cheque, and start thinking about a career in fast food.
So give yourself permission to write something bad. Twisting yourself into a pretzel about not being able to write anything good is self-perpetuating. The key is to start writing, instead of being caught up in editing minutia. Remember that you are not an editor. You are a writer. Often, the only way out is to write something bad, so you can bet get back in the groove and write something good. Sometimes there’s even some gold in that awful piece you just spewed out!
How do you deal with writer’s block?