Stepping Around the "Block"

The concept of "writer's block" is a rather contentious one in this industry. Some writers say it doesn't exist, that it's just a way of your mind giving you permission to procrastinate. Others treat it as a very real condition, like an illness or a foe to be bested.

But whatever your view, it seems that everyone, sooner or later, hits moments where the ideas and the words seem harder to find—if not totally impossible. We're only human, after all!

Personally, I find that when my creativity feels sluggish or even blocked, I can almost never restart it with brute force alone. For me, that sluggishness is actually my mind telling me that I haven't been doing enough to fertilize or rejuvenate its processes—in other words, the cupboard is bare! It means I need to take a step back and restock.

So I tend to come at blocked creativity from the side, rather than head-on. Instead of banging my head against the keyboard until words come out, these are some of the things I try:

  • Read a completely different type of book. If you primarily read young adult fiction, try adult non-fiction. Or if you read fantasy, try a mystery. Pick up a graphic novel, or spend some time reading the myths and legends of a culture you're not familiar with.
  • Get moving. Until I started talking to other writers, I thought I was the only one, but it turns out most of us share this strange phenomenon: movement prompts creativity. Go for a walk or a run or a ride on your bike. If you're sick or unable to do something active, going for a nice drive through the country always gets my brain moving.
  • Watch TV. No, this is not permission to spend all day on a Star Trek marathon instead of doing your work. But sometimes participating in a story in a medium that's different from the one you inhabit (written prose) can jog the thoughts. Turn off Jersey Shore and watch something with real storytelling mastery. I love to look at lists of the best television episodes ever, and work my way through them—and think critically about what you're seeing, why it works, how the writers made you feel and react in certain ways. (If you need a starting point, check out this list of the top ten Twilight Zone episodes of all time.)
  • Talk to someone. I've never been a huge fan of brainstorming with other people, just because I tend to feel oddly protective and private about my work while it's in progress. But I do have a very few number of people who seem to understand the way my process works, and I can bounce ideas off of them and ask for help. There's no rule stating that writers have to do everything alone!
  • Do something else creative, completely unrelated to writing. Crafts and other productive hobbies can be incredibly helpful. It's as though the brain recognizes that you're producing something, making visible, tangible progress, and retrains itself to crave that momentum. Writing can feel like an interminable project without many of those "I did it!" moments. Taking the afternoon to make a batch of bath bombs or knit a scarf is extremely satisfying, and leaves your mind free to wander and work, however subconsciously, on your writing problem.

Hopefully these tips are helpful. I'd love to hear what you guys do to beat the block! Sound off in the comments below.

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