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Five Ways to Overcome Writer's Block

Five Ways I Overcome Writer’s Block

by Jake on April 12, 2010

Serious Writer's Block

This morning I rolled out of bed facing a huge load of client work and swiftly approaching deadlines (they’re still there). And I’ll be honest. I just didn’t feel like working. And I especially didn’t feel like writing this post. I guess you could say I had writer’s block. Maybe you can relate.

The general advice I hear for writer’s block is to just sit down and plow through it. And that works from time to time. But it doesn’t necessarily create compelling writing. It generally creates listless and dispassionate words on a paper—and a grumpy writer who starts thinking whiskey sounds good at 8 a.m. Not a good combination.

So, I’m going to offer here five ways that I overcome my writer’s malaise when it comes on strong.

Get some exercise

Sometimes your body rebels against you because you’ve treated it so badly. Let’s face it. Most writers aren’t the most active of folks. After all, we spend hours upon hours hunched at a desk pounding away on a keyboard (much to the chagrin of our lower backs). This sedentary lifestyle can actually sap your energy and dull your mind. I’ve found that sometimes all I need to do to get the creative juices flowing is to strap on my headphones, turn up the volume, and go for a run around the neighborhood.

If you’re a writer like me, I’m pretty sure you suffer from some sort of neurosis that gets in the way of your work. Thankfully, exercise has many benefits for your mind. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can help you:

  • Gain confidence. Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.
  • Take your mind off worries. Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.
  • Get more social interaction. Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood.
  • Cope in a healthy way. Doing something positive to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better by drinking alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel, or hoping anxiety or depression will go away on their own can lead to worsening symptoms.

Read a book

From time to time, we all need to be inspired. When I’m struggling to capture my thoughts and translate them into anything meaningful on the paper—or when I go through periods of not caring about writing at all (we all go through this by the way, see this great quote at Michael Hyatt’s blog)—I pick up a good book and let another writer inspire me. Some people find it helpful to read a book in the genre they are writing. For me, any book will do. Reading good writing will generally beget good writing on your part. Plus, you’ll let your subconscious wander for a while so it’s refreshed for the next round of key pounding.

Take a nap

Really. It’s OK. No one writes well when they’re exhausted. If you try, you’ll just create more work for yourself on the editing side later (I should know. I’ve edited this post too many times already). Though it seems counterintuitive, the best thing you can do to increase your productivity is not work more but to be well rested. If you’ve been burning the midnight oil and can’t remember how to spell even simple words, just take a nap and come back to your work with a fresh, well-rested mind.

Eat some food

Chips don’t count. Neither does coffee. You need to have a healthy, balanced diet to feed your mind and keep your body health.

This is the one I’m most guilty off. I skip meals frequently in the name of productivity or because I’m on a roll. It’s horrible for my body, and it makes me a poor writer because my energy levels are down and my mind isn’t as sharp as it could be. So, take the 30 minutes to have lunch. Grab that bowl of cereal in the morning. And eat your veggies. Your writing will be healthier—and so will you.

Change it up

Finally, I’ve found something as simple as moving to a different location for work can be immensely helpful. Working at home is great. I love it. But sometimes I just need to get out and about. I move around to coffee shops, work-share spaces like Gangplank here in Phoenix, and even outdoors. The change of space and change of pace reinvigorates me and helps me focus.

So, there you have them. My five suggestions for overcoming writer’s block. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I’m sure there are plenty more strategies out there. If you have a strategy that helps you, why don’t you share it here?

Happy writing.

[Photo by OkayCityNate]

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Collins April 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I love the way the vision of a persistent, mocking, relentless, flashing cursor on a blank word processing document so flawlessly represents writer’s block.

The dis-ease of writer being unable to write, whether real or imagined, can strike a disproportionate fear into any scribe. And the symptoms become seriously exacerbated when the timeframe is tight. Tick tock, tickitty tock, flashitty flash – argh!

Now all this is a precursor (vague pun intended) to an explanation of my propensity to talk to myself. Rather than presume that I’ve lost my mind when you see me wandering along the street muttering to nobody in particular, I’d like you to know that, rather than face the dreaded flashing cursor, I’m actually running through the opening of another piece of writing. That sneaky little thing isn’t going to trick me, because once I have the opening, I’m away laughing.

The shower was today’s location for a nice chat with myself, as I contemplated the start of another dialogue in the story I’m writing for a client. It wasn’t particularly fruitful, but it did get me to thinking about how much writing is done in the head away from the computer.

My wife is used to seeing me looking all zoned out and vague from time to time. As an accomplished writer herself, Jane Teresa appreciates where and how the words are actually birthed sometimes. And she also fully understands, although her sense of appreciation diminishes somewhat here, when I stumble out of bed in the wee hours to jot an idea down.

An idea simmering away on the back burner can sometimes blossom at the most inappropriate time, unexpectedly and with alarming force. This is the unconscious mind working in a most spectacular way. Whether it’s true or not, Archimedes attained more fame leaping from the bath and racing naked down the street shouting, Eureka! than for many of his discoveries.

My gentle advice to anyone suffering writer’s block is to leave the project and do something else for a while, preferably away from the computer screen. If the write stuff streaks into your grey matter, like a massive meteorite exploding into the atmosphere, in the middle of a supermarket aisle, so be it. If your wayward literary genius is unfurling its embryonic wings and drenching your brain with a shower of ideas, what are a few upturned trolleys and scattered baked bean cans between friends? Hopefully, unlike Archimedes, you will be suitably attired for the occasion.

And as you hurl yourself through the checkout, cackling like a demented chook in search of a cleaver, just don’t forget to pay.

Note to self: Take a notebook and pen to the supermarket next time.

Jake April 14, 2010 at 6:51 am

Thanks for sharing, Michael. I think we can all attest to the absentmindedness that comes with the territory of being a writer.

Siddhartha April 14, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Jake,

Some great ideas here. I like exercise the most because it gets the blood flowing, gets me out of the house AND makes me feel accomplished all at the same time.

It’s always easier to start a difficult project if I feel like a success already and exercising does that for me.

I’ve also found that if I can start writing on something, anything, it will allow me to continue writing on the thing I’m really supposed to be working on. So, if you’ve got several projects do some writing on the one that seems to flow easiest and take that momentum over to the tough project.

Works for me anyway.

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