Overcoming Writer’s Block
As writers, we all know what it feels like to suffer from the inevitable case of writer’s block. We’re in good company: famous writers around the world, from Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury and Graham Greene to Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Mark Twain, have suffered from it.
The term was actually coined in 1947 by psychiatrist Edmund Bergler who suggested that therapy could “unblock” the writer. We think that’s a bit extreme (although a few of us would definitely consider it). Instead, we thought we’d offer up our own homemade remedies for handling the affliction.
When the words are struggling to reveal themselves, I usually resort to one of two methods. First, I get up from behind my desk and seek out a change of scenery—our surprisingly comfortable Mad Men couch, a seat at the bar counter, a quiet conference room. On nicer days, a quick walk around the block with some of the other writers to get some fresh air and clear our heads will do the trick.
If a change of scenery doesn’t work, it’s time to bring out the heavy hitters: 2 Chainz, Weezy, Outkast, Fetty Wap, Kanye. Usually, I work with one headphone in and one out so I can still interact with my coworkers. But the more severe cases of writer’s block require both headphones in and 90’s/2000’s Hip Hop/R&B at max volume.
Side Note: 60% of the time, the training montage from Rocky IV works every time.
I really try not to let myself buy into writer’s block. I get it, sure, sometimes ideas are tough to find, but far too often I turn writer’s block into a justification for my own laziness (I’m like a big sleepy dog—once I get comfortable I don’t want to move). I’m not looking for ideas; I’m looking for distraction. So after a certain point I have to isolate myself from anything that might draw me away from whatever I should actually be doing.
The best way to combat nothing is with absolutely anything. Getting over the hump and creating literally anything is better than staring at a monitor. I’m a strong believer in shitty first drafts—just word vomit all over a Word document until I find something in there that sucks slightly less. Then I take that idea and blow it up and refine it, and then I blow that one up again and so on until it doesn’t suck anymore.
Side Note: I don’t care what time it is; you need more caffeine.
Sometimes I just stare at a screen for what feels like an eternity and come to this realization. During these frustrating times, talking with my colleagues always helps alleviate stress (in real time and in my writer’s realm). Whether I ask them for advice on how to proceed with whatever topic is challenging my writing ability, or just embrace random conversation, talking with others usually brings me some sense of comfort.
If talking things out doesn’t help, I always turn to music. Writing is a creative process and sometimes you need a little inspiration from a different outlet. Anything 90’s is my go-to (TLC, Boyz II Men, Notorious B.I.G., Lauryn Hill, etc.), though, I’ve been known to indulge in a Broadway soundtrack or two (and jazz instrumentals can be really soothing!). Listening to others be creative always inspires me to be creative, even if I’m just developing a first draft.
Side Note: Once the music hits, I’m unstoppable.
I usually don’t realize I’m experiencing writer’s block until I’ve been staring at the screen (or page—yes, I’m that old) for some time without results. My initial reaction is to squint forcefully and shake my head, like I’m trying to wake myself up.
Like my colleagues, my first line of defense is to seek out the company of someone else, in person, to talk through what I’m writing about. That usually does the trick, as it allows for the natural cadence of conversation to soothe me back into productive thinking.
However, sometimes it isn’t enough. For those occasions, I have a couple of tried and true approaches. The most successful by far is mowing the lawn. I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason, the combination of intense sun, sweat and steady movement produces an ease in my mind, and I’m able to return to productive writing after finishing.
Side Note: Last week, I suffered lawn mower’s block for the first time. I sat down and started writing, and promptly rediscovered my lawn mowing muse.
I don’t know where to start…(kidding). Seriously, writer’s block for me is more about misplacing my muse. Feeling a complete lack of creativity is when I get stumped. If it’s just a question of not being sure how to begin, I try “writing myself in” to an article or project. I’ll type whatever comes to mind, even a list of (crappy) words.
When that doesn’t work, I shut down my laptop, and head to the gym. A good workout helps to bring back my muse (and my good mood). If all else fails, I put headphones in and blast music into my brain—Led Zeppelin usually does the trick.
Side Note: I need alone time when I’m struggling. Nathan’s “piss off” post-it really helps.