If you write, you’ve been there. You sit down at your laptop/desktop/pad of paper, ready to crank out the best series of words the world has ever seen, and then… nothing.
Okay, well you’ll just check Twitter and get back to work. Nothing? All righty, how about something to eat. Still no? Maybe checking Facebook will help. Lather, rinse, repeat.
We can easily find ourselves in the clutches of the dreaded Writer’s Block (I capitalized it because it looks scarier that way) but I’ve found there are at least a few ways you can shake it off and find yourself even better off than before. Try any number of these tricks to see if they kickstart your creativity train!
It really can be that easy. Sometimes you get too caught up in your own head and all you need is someone else’s words to set you free. After all, the master Stephen King has one chief rule for being a writer: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
2. Go for a walk.
Physical activity gets your blood flowing and let’s face it, a lot of us are guilty of plopping ourselves in front of the computer and not getting up unless the bathroom or kitchen calls. Get outside and breathe that fresh air! It doesn’t have to be very far or very intensive — you could take a leisurely stroll around your neighborhood or strap on your Nikes and run a few miles, it’s up to you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spotted interesting things while on one of these walks that ended up giving me an idea for a story. Plus, it’s just plain good for you.
3. Listen to lyric-heavy music.
When I’m writing, I can only listen to instrumental music because anything with words distracts me. However, when I’m scrambling for ideas, I find that songs with a strong set of lyrics can really set off some sparks. Sometimes a song tells a story on its own, but other times you get just enough detail without learning ALL the answers. I like to fill in those gaps. Artists that are my go-tos for this technique are Hozier, The Mountain Goats, and Brand New. Find your favorites!
4. Keep notes for future ideas.
This is more an ongoing project but you’ll find it can come in clutch when you need it most. You can use a notebook, a Word document, anything — I use Evernote, which is really great for all sorts of organization and note-taking. Basically, I have a notebook called “Writing Ideas” that
I update whenever I get a scrap of an idea that isn’t fully formed yet. For example, I have a list of phrases that sound normal that could be twisted into something darker, themes from movies that I thought were interesting, and even a phrase I saw in the hospital ER that stuck with me (“blood tubes and butterflies.”) None of this means anything to me now, but if I find myself in a rut I can always return to this notebook and see if one of the things I jotted down months ago inspires some creativity now.
5. Analyze some form of art that you appreciate.
I’m sure you have a favorite book, movie, song, painting, etc. We all do. But have you ever stopped to think about WHY you like that piece of art so much? Is it because it’s particularly funny in a way that resonates with you? Does experiencing it stir something inside that nothing else can? We all appreciate entertainment but we don’t always think about why we appreciate it. In analyzing these works, you may find that there’s a running theme or element to them that you might want to explore in your own writing.
6. Give yourself some me-time.
Writer’s block can become a terrible feedback loop. You can’t write, so you get stressed, so you try to write, but you can’t write, so you get MORE stressed… it just goes in circles. Make sure you step away from your writing, even for a few minutes, to let yourself breathe. Disconnect that feedback loop. Reset your brain. Return when you’re feeling a little more grounded and you might find that just a few moments NOT focusing on the stress of breaking out of the block might actually break you out on its own.
7. Get productive around the house.
This can also help break the cycle of not-writing-related-stress. It redirects your thoughts towards something a little simpler and also makes you feel good to get shit done. Wash the dishes, do some laundry, mow the lawn. This shows you that hey, you CAN accomplish something with your time, as well as forcing you to stop obsessing over the fact that you haven’t reached your daily word count. I like to reorganize my office and update my music playlists; it’s also nice to have everything in order when you sit back down to try again.
8. Do some research.
You may still be struggling for ideas, but one of the techniques I’ve noticed seems to work really well for me involves diving into the delves of the Internet looking for inspiration. There are a few subreddits dedicated to subjects that interest me I can scroll through. Wikipedia is your friend and full of information — you’d be surprised what you can find with a few random clicks. Another great way to get your brain going is to try Google Images. I hit the image search and try anything from a famous celebrity to a location I’ve always wanted to visit to a string of nonsense words. A visual cue may be just what you need to find that spark of inspiration.
9. Read some of your own work.
This may sound lame and almost masturbatory but hear me out. On the days I feel like I may never write again, I go back to my older pieces and read through them again. This does two things for me: it reminds me that I’ve done it before so I can do it again, and it gives me a chance to analyze my writing style. Sometimes it’s good (“Wow, did I really come up with that line of prose?”) and sometimes it’s not (“Why do I keep using that phrase over and over in every story?!”) but ultimately this practice has made me a better writer in the long run while providing some much-needed distraction.
10. Go easy on yourself.
It’s easy to feel like a failure when your passion is writing and you’re, you know, not writing. But don’t fall victim to that self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone struggles, regardless of talent or circumstance. Do you think any of the greats didn’t suffer the same blank sheet of paper (or computer screen) that you’re suffering right now? Of course they did. But they didn’t quit and they didn’t beat themselves up over it. They persevered and you can too. So even when you’re thinking you may be the worst writer in the history of EVER take a step back, take a deep breath, and tell yourself it’s okay. Here, I’ll do it for you. It’s okay. Keep writing, don’t give up. I believe in you, and you should too.