I don’t often struggle with writers’ block. I like to say the cure for writers’ block is a hard deadline. But last week I had several (not one, not two, but SEVERAL) free days to just work on my own stuff. It was the equivalent of being taken to Baskin Robbins and told you could only choose one flavor. I was paralyzed.
So of course I defaulted to cruising Facebook and playing Web Sudoku. (I’m up to “Evil” level if that gives you any idea how much time I have wasted on Web Sudoku.) I was moaning about it to my friend, author/poet/artist Mary Anne Radmacher. (No, she’s not dead.)
She nodded empathetically. “Some days you just can’t push the pen.”
What do you do on the days when the words don’t come?
Let’s Get Physical
One of the best things you can do is take a walk. One Stanford University study found that walking increased people’s creativity by 60%. (Here’s a really good article from Brain World Magazine on walking and creativity.) It turns out that many great writers are also great walkers. What if it’s raining? Walking on a treadmill has the same effect. No excuses!
While studies have shown the benefits of walking, I’m going to go out on a limb and say go for a swim, go hit a bucket of balls at the range, do a couple of rounds of Dance Dance Revolution. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that physical activity helps prevent cognitive decline and releases chemicals that protect your brain. It may not cure your writers’ block, but it will help keep you sharp.
Switch Projects or Chapters
One of the benefits of being me is that I always have anywhere from three to six personal writing projects running at any given time. If I’m not “feeling it” as I’m trying to work on a project, I can turn to another and see if my mind wants to play there. This is not the most efficient thing to do—switching projects means you have to take time to settle into the new material, usually reviewing and finding your place. But if you’re getting nothing done anyway, the extra twenty to thirty minutes it takes to get started on something different may be worth it if you get some solid writing in.
You can also switch to a different section of the same project. This is why outlining your work is so handy. Right now I’m in the “messy middle” of a novella. I’m not quite lost, but the words ain’t flowing. I do know how I want the story to end so today I will jump to the last chapter and write that. Then I might write the second to last chapter. From there, I can go back to the middle and build a bridge to the ending. This works for nonfiction, too. Some chapters might need more research than others. If you’re pressed for time, you might skip to a section that you know cold and can write quickly and easily. Or if you’re having trouble with writing itself, you can switch to researching a topic.
What If You Still Have Writers’ Block?
Some days I just grind it out. I can usually write over 1,000 words an hour. (No, I can’t do that for eight hours straight.) There are days it takes me two hours to put together 500 words. And they’re not good words. I spent two days like that, working on the novella. I’ve spent the past two writing sessions for my nonfiction book in the same mode. It’s not fun. It’s maddeningly slow. But I’m looking back at last week’s efforts and I am seeing progress. Not the progress I wanted or expected. (“I am very disappointed in me, young lady!”)
But things moved forward to the point where the writing is going to flow. Sometimes you have to write down ugly, awkward sentences just to get something onto the paper that you can fix later. The writing reaches a tipping point where you have enough down that you know you can work with it and it’s going to be okay. That comes from experience. For newer writers, you may think, “I can’t do this!” Don’t give up. You can do this. It’s a matter of being okay with things being clumsy for a while.
Just Get It Down on Paper
Hemingway is credited with saying “The first draft of anything is shit” and the man had a point. Very seldom do we come up with the perfect wording of anything more than a single sentence on the first try. Writing takes skill and time and work. Writing is re-writing. Tolstoy said, “I can’t understand how anyone can write without rewriting everything over and over again.”
Suspend your inner critic and just get the words out of your head and onto the page. Some days those words will come faster than others. Accept this. If you’re hit with writers’ block, know that this happens, too. We all have days when we hit the wall. Try the strategies above and if they don’t work, then leave your writing alone for a day or two. Sometimes your brain needs a break. When you get back to the work, you will have fresh eyes and hopefully, fresh energy.
Do you have any tricks or tips to help cure writers’ block? Let us know in the comments below!