Recently, a writer friend asked me how I combat writer’s block. Before I share what I told her, let me just tell you that writer’s block doesn’t discriminate. I don’t care if you’re JK frickin Rowling, every author is afflicted with this curse. Case in point, I gave this friend my answer for battling writer’s block. But later that week, I found myself daunted by a blinking cursor, the only thing moving on the blank page before me. It’s absolutely ridiculous how inspiration bleeds from my pores when I’m in the middle of something, but then vanishes once I am in the position to write. I’ll have the plot of a story coursing through me in anticipation for my scheduled alone time, only to have forgotten every bit of it when I open my laptop. Or worse, my brilliant idea transforms into something completely stupid.
So while I can’t tell you the absolute cure for curbing writer’s block, I can share some of the things that have helped me to climb over this albatross.
- Write every day.
This is probably the #1 advice any author will give you. I liken the practice of writing every day to the practice of training for a marathon. You wouldn’t wake up one day and run 26.2 miles without months of training beforehand, would you? The same goes for writing. You have to strengthen your writing muscle before you can take part in regular word sprints and inspirational prose. Set aside a certain time every day when it’s just you and your writing. It can be as short as 30 minutes, if you want, but it’s best if you can plan for this at the same time every day. Then write what you want. Write a poem. Write a journal entry. Write a description of the room where you’re sitting. Write anything. At first, it will feel daunting. That blinking cursor might plague you just as it plagues me. However, if you keep showing up every day ready to write, there will come a day when your muse will arrive at the same time.
If you’re stumped on what to write, here are 365 writing prompts, one for every day of the year.
- Turn off all distractions.
My phone is my nemesis. It’s what I reach for whenever I can’t figure out what to write, or how to perfectly word what I’m trying to say. If I’m frustrated with my writing, I’ll reach for my phone and scroll through social media or my email, waiting for inspiration to hit. Thing is, digital distractions are creativity killers. I will never find the right words or feel the pull of inspiration while scrolling through perfectly filtered photos on Instagram. To be honest, I’m actually going to feel much worse, much less inspired, and way more frustrated. This is my current issue. Is this your issue, too? The best way to free yourself from these distractions is to get them away from you completely. I know it can feel uncomfortable freeing yourself from busyness, but creativity craves the quiet. If it’s your scheduled writing time, keep your phone out of the room, or at least on airplane mode. Turn the internet off your phone. Close the door and lock it. It might even help to set a timer, mandating distraction free time, and then permitting that distraction when the timer runs out.
Hey, you can even write about that distraction during your writing time. 🙂
- Do something else.
Sometimes the well is dry. The words are gone. The ideas have scattered. The muse has left the building. It happens, and fighting it won’t make reality any different. If you find yourself completely sapped of creativity, it’s time to take a break (and no, not a scroll through social media break). Go do something that will refill your writing well. What recharges you? What fills you with inspiration? Is it a walk in the woods? Is it a day to just watch the waves roll in at the ocean, the clouds drift by overhead, or the grass blow in the wind?
Give yourself permission to go slow. My favorite poem by Mary Oliver perfectly encapsulates what an escape like this might look like:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I mean, to sit and contemplate a grasshopper for an afternoon? To distance yourself from the rapid pace of this world? To spend a moment being slow and deliberate with your focus? Pure bliss.
I cover the issue of blocked creativity quite a bit in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul. The book is split into sections that cover calming techniques, soul exercises, organization (uncluttering your life so you can focus), boundaries (protecting your writing time and self-esteem), and how to apply all this to your life. In the final chapter, I wrote this:
Our jobs as artists is to capture pieces of what we perceive, transform it into something new, then offer it back to the people of this world so that they can see it in a different light.
Our tools are our imagination, our experiences, and our emotions. We also draw from our community and beyond. This is why it’s so important for us to not only pay attention to our surroundings, but we should also be with people and in environments that inspire us to go further with our art.
Inspiration won’t always meet you at your desk. There are times when it’s necessary to leave your chair and search for it. You’ll find it in nature, in art galleries, in interesting people…and even in spending the afternoon with a curious grasshopper.
What do you do to combat writer’s block?