Writing can be extremely cathartic. The moment after I’ve been in the zone for a while and finish the section I’ve been working on, and my brain is still humming — not knowing whether to write more or rest with the images still swishing around in my mind — is one of the best sensations I’ve ever felt. Writing can also be harsh. The holidays were fantastic for having fun with new and old friends, but I still had pages due on Saturday. It wasn’t that I had no idea what to write; I knew what came next, just not how to get there. Those are the moments when it feels like I’m taking a running leap into a brick wall. I bounce back, fall on my ass, and look up at this insurmountable hulk of a thing. I can see the footholds chipped away, the places to put my feet and fingers to make the climb. But each time I start pulling myself up, I slip and tumble back to the ground, scraping my nails all the way down. I wanted to bash my head against a wall this weekend. I didn’t quite reach my wordcount in the end, though I didn’t miss it by a horrendous amount. I sent the work off feeling equal parts excited, stunned, and worn out.
Writer’s block, for me, has almost nothing to do with writing. It happens when I have a million other things (or one huge thing) on my mind. Those other thoughts jam together and stop me moving forward on anything, not just my writing. Tension, looming worries, feeling isolated — all of these things and more take me down completely unproductive paths. What I’m talking about happens to everyone, whether you write or not. “Writer’s block” is just another term for stuckness. During my stop-and-start weekend of work, I tried pretty much everything that tends to help when I’m in a rut. So for all you folks out there trying to get unstuck, here are some methods you can try:
Whether you love singing along (or harmonizing, like me), or you just like to get lost in the sounds you’re hearing, listening to music can work wonders in the unlocking-your-brain department. Close your eyes and picture yourself elsewhere. Play some solitaire with your playlist blaring in your ears. Dance around in footie pajamas with a shampoo bottle microphone! Set your life to music for a while and see how you feel.
2) Record your thoughts.
Sometimes the most helpful thing to do is to put your worries into words. Writing down the challenges weighing on your mind and seeing them there in front of you gives you a measure of control when you feel like you’re just a helpless speck of nothing in the giant universe. I don’t know about you, but simply proving to myself that I’m aware of what’s troubling me gives me a small sense of triumph because it’s the first step to making things better.
3) Write a poem (or draw a picture).
The way you feel isn’t always expressible in complete sentences. If you’re bogged down inside but can’t or don’t want to put your feelings into concrete terms, the abstract environment of a poem (or drawing) could be just right for you. Try writing down your feelings as they are, then substituting each factual phrase for a metaphor. It’s a nice way of turning what you know about yourself into a bit of a riddle. **Bonus Round**: give the finished product to someone who knows you well and see how they interpret it. Interesting times ahead for sure…
4) Watch something you know by heart.
So this is one of my FAVORITE things to do. When I want to do nothing but escape and laugh, I go for Friends or Futurama. I know nearly every word of Every. Single. Episode. When I’m tired of trying to figure out what comes next in my writing (or my life) it’s insanely comforting to watch something where I know exactly what’s going to happen and when, and let my brain run on autopilot.
5) Get up and get out!
I am looooong overdue for a hike, a journey down a river, a spelunking adventure, some kind of outdoor escapade. After sitting in front of a computer screen for hours, my brain is in a constant state of deep-fry. I tend to favor walks, but you can do anything! Kayak around a lake; do cartwheels in your living room; start a random mosh pit with strangers while you’re waiting for the bus. Anything. Just do something that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen until your eyeballs melt.
This one is particularly helpful for me when I don’t want to stop thinking about the writing I need to do. It’s good to see how other people handle certain writing challenges (and if the book is good, it’s just plain fun to read). Honestly, reading is a good idea for anyone who enjoys it. It can be nice to take a break from your own life and follow someone else’s.
7) Give yourself a break.
Aren’t all of these about giving yourself a break? Nah, dude. When I say give yourself a break I mean don’t be so hard on yourself. I am the absolute worst when it comes to this (see what I mean?). It is SO easy, once you’ve fallen into a rut, to compound that difficulty by berating yourself for getting stuck in the first place. But don’t worry — it happens to everyone. You’ll make it through. And in the meantime, be proud of yourself for making it this far 🙂
What’s your favorite way to get unstuck?