I’ve taught enough writing classes to know that we all have writer’s block from time to time. It’s a frustrating experience to have ideas that have been flowing nicely suddenly come to an abrupt halt for no apparent reason. Of course, every writer is different, and there may be individual remedies to bring back the magic, like standing on one’s head for two minutes, drinking a cup of coffee, looking at old family photos, staring into a lit candle,or banging one’s head against a soft wall. The solutions are probably as varied as writers themselves, but I’d like to share some of the methods that have worked for me in kick-starting my brain to restore some kind of productivity.
When I feel the ideas shrinking, I usually just stop writing. My method of writing is quite old-fashioned and involves spiral-ringed notebooks, dozens of pencils, and a ball point pen before using the word processor on my laptop. There’s something about ideas bubbling in my brain and then flowing physically down my right arm through my fingers and pen or pencil onto the paper that works best for me. There’s an immediacy that I just don’t feel at the keyboard, the sensation that, like blood flowing through my veins, the ideas will reach the paper in an organic way.
The computer screen never feels part of me. There is no emotional connection as there is with pen and paper. I know there are writers who feel the opposite and would be bogged down by using an ink pen. That’s fine. Whatever produces results is what one has to use. I wouldn’t dream of criticizing any method that works for another writer.
Sometimes I brew a cup of hot peppermint tea as a break from any writing that seems to be growing stale. Other times, I may walk around the block with the dog, put on a piece of music to take my mind elsewhere, phone a friend to chat for a few minutes, do a crossword puzzle, or even take a nap. When I return to face the blank page, I may ask myself what I’m actually trying to do and how a reader might see what that is. I pretend to be the reader and wonder if I’m including what is needed to keep interest or to inform. Am I trying to be humorous, informative, objectively descriptive, or all of the above? If I’m writing fiction, I may focus on characters to try making them seem real with a host of details.
Looking at pictures, smelling scented candles, going on the treadmill for ten minutes, imagining a conversation between two portraits or paintings and always asking “What if…?” can recharge the writing batteries too. A lot depends upon mood and the level of energy at any given moment. There are also times when I simply hurl the notebook across the room and go back to it later. There are marks on the wall in my study to serve as memories of those times.
Maybe the most important thing is to remember that writer’s block comes to every writer once in a while, and the more he worries about it, the stronger that block becomes. Try not to take it too seriously, unless of course, you are in the middle of a timed, college essay in one of those notorious blue books, in which case the most expedient solution, if you are on at least the third floor, is to leap out the nearest window. Otherwise, chill a bit and create an alternative activity to get your mind away from the clog until you can find something that acts as a plumber’s plunger for the brain. Always try to see writing as a pleasure and an opportunity to blow your horn and show your skill and creativity. When you see it merely as another task, it will become just that. I like the idea of creating the Pavlovian effect of eventually being happy when I see a notebook or a word processor. No need to salivate. Just write.