10 ways to overcome writer’s block
Whether you’re an aspiring blockbuster novelist, a features journalist, or simply have an essay to complete for a university project, most of us will be affected by writer’s block at some point in our lives. Symptoms can range from mild frustration (and lots of tutting) to full-blown panic (and lots of swearing) when faced with an urgent, non-negotiable deadline.
The good news is there are many simple techniques that can help get your creative juices flowing again. And many of them really work. Trust me, I use them. Regularly. The key is to experiment, find the technique that works best for you and then not to panic the next time the black fog descends. Because nothing is more debilitating to a writer than fear of failure. Instead, accept that like an overwrought and uncooperative toddler, your brain simply needs a short period of time out. A change of scene. Note, this is an important part of the creative process and not to be confused with skiving. Look at it as one of the perks of the job.
So, here are my own top 10 tips for activities that will help in overcoming writer’s block. If you’re really up against it, some can be completed in just a couple of minutes. Although, of course, if you have the time and money to slip off to the Caribbean for a couple of weeks, that might just do the trick too…
1. Talking in tongues
Okay, I admit, this one is a bit alternative, and possibly not for the faint-hearted or those who share an office. But bear with me because I find this a really useful technique for clearing an overloaded and over-stimulated mind. And you don’t have to be a member of a weird religious sect to try it.
Wikipedia describes speaking in tongues as “the fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables…”, but, to be honest, you could just as easily describe it as talking gibberish. Simply close your eyes, relax and, without consciously thinking about what you are saying or trying to form any real words, allow your mouth to utter a constant stream of sound. The faster the better. Once you’ve overcome the initial embarrassment factor, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to spew out a meaningless montage of syllables and guttural sounds. It’s a great way to get rid of the internal chatter. It’s also a useful technique for quietening an over-active mind at bed time.
If talking in tongues is a bit far out for you, how about a spot of doodling? Apparently, while writing uses the logical left side of your brain, doodling engages the right side of your brain, stimulating creativity and allowing your subconscious to clear out thoughts and ideas that cannot be articulated in words. Think of it as a spring-clean of your brain. So, it seems that all those hours spent doodling at the back of the classroom during double History weren’t wasted after all. Get a pen and a pad and get scribbling.
3. Alternate nostril breathing
This is another technique for activating both sides of your brain and is often used by meditation practitioners to calm the mind and produce greater clarity of thought. It seems that in the same way we are all naturally either left or right-handed, we each favour breathing through predominantly just one nostril. Breathing through the left nostril will access the right ‘feeling’ side of the brain, whilst breathing through the right nostril will access the left ‘thinking’ side of your brain. It’s claimed, then, that just a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing can restore any imbalances in your brain and make you feel more alert.
Simply sit comfortably and place your left index finger over your left nostril whilst inhaling through your right nostril. Pause while you remove your left finger and use your right index finger to close your right nostril. Exhale through your left nostril. Pause. Inhale through your left nostril, pause, and swap fingers again so that you open and exhale out of your right nostril. Repeat the pattern up to 10 times. Not recommended if you have a mucus build-up.
Everyone knows that exercise is a great stress reliever and that it produces long-lasting feel-good endorphins. It also gets blood and oxygen pumping round your body – including your brain. So, if you already enjoy exercise, this one’s a must and should be part of your regular routine. Go for a run, a swim, a cycle…or just sneak onto the kids’ trampoline. You’ll feel better for it.
It’s common knowledge that if you want to be a good writer, you need to be an even better reader. Reading as widely as possible expands your mind and is often inspiring. Whether it’s ‘War and Peace’, Mills & Boon, or even your favourite mail order catalogue, a reading break is a great way to get the words flowing again.
6. Chewing gum
If you’re really up against it in terms of time, try chewing some gum while you work. Sugar-free, of course. Chewing increases blood flow to the brain. It also prevents you from gnashing your teeth on the keyboard.
7. Write down ideas – immediately!
If you’re working on a longer piece, I’ve learned (from bitter experience) that your most brilliant ideas usually erupt from your brain at the oddest times and when you are nowhere near your computer. Your ‘eureka’ moment might happen in the middle of the night, in the middle of the supermarket or in the middle of a tinkle but, you can bet your life, if you don’t write it down there and then, by the time you get back to your computer, the words will have evaporated into thin air. The moral of the story? Carry a small notebook and pen with you everywhere and leave one by your bed.
8. Have a change of scene
If the view from your desk is beginning to irritate you and you have the benefit of a laptop, or don’t mind writing longhand, try taking your work somewhere else. Whether it’s your local library or a coffee shop, a change of scene may be all you need to stimulate your creative thinking. It worked for J.K. Rowling.
9. Enjoy a power nap
There are some days when, for whatever reason, your head feels like lead and you struggle just to keep your eyes open, let alone focus on the screen. It’s often in the post lunch slot that energy and attention span begin to flag and no amount of coffee consumption makes any difference. At that point, it’s a waste of time torturing yourself in front of your computer. Let’s face it, you’re not going to come up with anything remotely good. Personally, I either get outside for a brisk walk or run, or curl up with my cat for a short snooze. A half hour power nap is all it takes to wake up refreshed and re-energised. If you’re worried you won’t wake up, set your alarm.
10. Pay someone else to write for you
Of course, I would say that wouldn’t I. But, in all seriousness, if you have regular writing commitments and are struggling to find the time, inclination or ideas to produce your best effort, finding a reliable professional writer to help you out can be a godsend. Just be sure to ask them if they ever suffer from writer’s block first.