In a recent survey of people writing this post, one out of one writers reported experiencing severe writer’s block at least once a week. (This survey has a margin of error of +/- 100%, depending on how much sleep those surveyed had the night before.)
OK, so, the sample size is a little small. But according to another very real and much more formal study, Writer’s Block is actually a horse somewhere in Australia, and therefore cannot harm you. Unless you’re some sort of Antipodean malcontent, poking around the stables looking to cause trouble, I suppose.
NEVERTHELESS, the other writer’s block—the sort that makes you want to look up horses on the Internet when you should be writing blog posts—remains a very real challenge for those of us who bravely take up the keyboard and rage, rage against the dying of the light. And so, as a service to my fellow writers, I thought I’d share a handful of methods I use to give strength to my mental Mjölnir
when a particularly stubborn block stands in the way of writing success.
You know how it is. You’re sitting at your desk (or, better yet, standing), and slowly tapping your forehead against the keyboard while quietly making a “boop” noise. Your deadline is looming, inspiration has fled, and you’re seriously reconsidering your decision to dedicate your life to building magical word castles for the unappreciative masses.
Time to take a walk.
When you’re awash in anxiety, the neurons in your brain are lit up like the Christmas tree you haven’t yet set up because you’re stuck at the office, NOT WRITING. Exercise actually works to calm you down by encouraging the production of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This wondrous substance inhibits brain activity, which might seem like a sure path to ending up on Jackass, but is instead a good thing, because it targets all those overexcited neurons in your noggin that are interfering with your clear thinking and creativity.
You already knew exercise was good for your health, but you might be surprised at just how good it is for your writing, too. Taking a walk at lunchtime, plus five-minute breaks to stretch out my limbs and shake out the cobwebs every hour on the hour works for me, but you might prefer Tai Chi, yoga, or, uh, this.
Writing, like all the creative arts, involves both sides of your brain when done properly. Form and function can create some amazing things when they work in tandem, but if you’re bogged down or blocked and find your right brain is simply out of creative juices, it’s time to refill the well.
Take a break and exercise your creativity by doing something—anything—that isn’t whatever you’re writing. Sing. Paint. Pick up your sketchbook. If you’re writing a detailed blog post or in-depth article, try switching to something light and unstructured, like free verse.
You can also use sites such as 750Words.com to practice freewriting and give yourself a stress-free space for creative writing without edits or expectations. Freewriting takes your left brain out of the equation and lets you tap into your creativity, free from the burdens of logical narrative and doubt.
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s an activity that’s worlds away from the stress and anxiety that are contributing to your writer’s block. You may not have a Eureka Moment while you’re doodling, warbling, or scribbling out a sonnet, but you will help your brain outflank the creative block by resetting your headspace and coming back to your work with a fresh set of eyes.
(Note: Do not take anyone’s actual eyes. Easy there, Imhotep.)
When you’re a kid, the promise of a trip to the park or even some penny whistles and Moon Pies is enough to encourage you to power through that boring homework assignment or unpleasant chores. Flash forward to the land of adulthood, where nobody’s handing out candy for doing your freaking job (though the paycheck is nice), and motivation can be a little hard to come by.
Enter the Pavlovian genius of Write or Die.
Designed to bypass the higher mind of the creative professional (that’s you), this clever app can be set up to play sounds, change colors, and show you images in response to your writing performance. You can bask in the warm glow of a Caribbean sunset when you meet your word limit, or be blasted with an airhorn and assaulted with pictures of spiders for falling below the standards you’ve set for yourself. There’s even a “Kamikaze” option that will systematically destroy all the vowels (or “disemvowel,” to borrow a phrase from the app’s creator) in your work if you fail to meet the performance criteria you set.
The next thing you know, you’re finishing your content at an unprecedented rate, although your shock of bone-white hair and constant tremor will make you something of a bummer at parties.
You can also use the application’s “Stimulus Mode” to create a background environment and soundscape that fades automatically if you stop writing.
Reviews are mixed, but if conditioned responses are your thing, there are worse ways to invest $20.
Get Some Sleep
The other tips I’ve mentioned are designed to clear the figurative cobwebs that make up a mental block. But good old sleep—a necessity that many creative folks end up treating like an optional luxury—literally cleanses the junk from your brain. This cleansing mechanism—known as the glymphatic system—becomes ten times more active while we’re asleep, eagerly scouring away waste buildup, unwanted byproducts, and the image of that guy with his eyes missing from the “Get Creative” tip.
The less waste and fluid build-up, the happier and healthier your brain. Which means less anxiety, a more relaxed attitude, and better writing. Huzzah!
Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of slumber to be at their best (women need a bit more sleep because we multi-task. Sorry, boys!) If, like more than 50% of Americans, you get seven hours of sleep or less, consider grabbing a bit more bunk time in order to give your brain the rest and cleaning it needs.
Writer’s block is a reality we all have to deal with on occasion. But with adequate rest and exercise, along with the occasional motivational jab and creative tinkering, you can find the will and strength to smash even the most tenacious mental block and reach your writing goals.