Stuck Behind a Writer’s Block
You’re working on a writing project, and it’s had its ups and downs. This time, however, the downs have got you in a trough, and you don’t know how to get out of it. You have writer’s block.
What do you do when writing feels like pulling teeth?
Wait—aren’t distractions a part of the problem? Why should you distract yourself when you’ve got work to do and deadlines to meet? I suggest using purposeful distractions, which is a strategy based on the fact that some of our best ideas, thoughts, connections, and memories strike when we least expect them to: when we’re focused on something else entirely.
Below are some ideas for distractions that will allow your brain to engage in something unfamiliar, which will prime it to create new channels of thought and creativity. Are you ready?
Distracting Your Writer’s Block
- Go for daily walks. Do nothing else: no music, no destination, no errands to run. Just walk for the sake of walking. Walk routes you are unfamiliar with, even if it’s in an area nearby. Take streets/pathways/directions (i.e., backwards compared to your normal route) that you have never taken. Bring a notebook with you (actual paper—your smartphone doesn’t count) in case something strikes you unexpectedly and you need to record it. If you’re brave enough, consider leaving your smartphone at home so it won’t disrupt your solitude.
- Take daily naps (seriously). Set a timer for 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t sleep more than that no matter how tempting it is. It will mess up your sleep cycle later in the evening. Use this tool to determine the best time to nap (though if you have unconventional sleep habits, it might not help much). Remember that sleeping means more brain activity, not less. While you nap, your brain will hit brain waves that are conducive to creativity without delving into deeper wave sleep that will throw you off-kilter and ruin your regular night’s sleep. The guilt North Americans (and many others) feel about napping is absolutely shameful. It’s time we appreciate its value.
- Try free writing. Try writing something completely unrelated to your current project. You either can just sit down and write what comes to mind (no editing, no filters, etc.), kind of like journaling, or you can transcribe something unrelated that you love (a poem, a short story, song lyrics, etc.). The first is a way to get crap out of your brain that you’re thinking about compulsively and/or semi-consciously—the very things that might be behind your writer’s block. Writing things down helps get it out of your brain and out of your way. The second option, transcribing, isn’t just “copying”; it’s a way to engage with a piece of literature in a way that we don’t often do. It makes you see it in a new light. Handwriting is a very engaging practice. If you type a lot, switching to handwriting for these distractions will give your brain a different kind of exercise it likely needs. Like napping, handwriting is an activity we don’t do often enough.
- Listen actively to music. The key word here is actively. Listen to music only for the sake of listening to it. Don’t relegate it to background noise, don’t do housework, don’t check Facebook or Twitter, don’t text your friends, don’t play Candy Crush or Pokémon Go. Just sit, relax, and listen to the music with intent. Let your brain process it, and you will see different layers/textures in it that you might have missed otherwise. And while listening to your favourite music is fine, this practice is best done with classical and jazz, as these genres feature a complexity that engages the brain on levels that other forms of music don’t always hit. Other music can be relaxing, mood-boosting, etc., but classical and jazz are that and more.
Why These Distractions Eliminate Writer’s Block
Being so focused on your writing project even when you’re not working on it is exhausting in itself, but it might also be the problem. In other words, being rigidly attached to your work could be at the core of your writer’s block. The distractions listed above, no matter how temporary, will help you replenish and refresh so that you can re-engage with your project with new vigour.
These distractions get you to briefly forget about your work and focus on something unfamiliar. This unfamiliarity kickstarts the brain. It could also help reduce any anxiety you feel about your current project.
Once you realize the value of these distractions, any guilt you feel about partaking in them should fade. People get burned out by always being on the go. We all need balance. Consider making this strategy of occasionally distracting yourself an official part of your workflow. The creative mind craves it.