14 October 2008, 18:12
The most common piece of advice for anyone suffering writer’s block is “just write”. Of course, this is an excellent suggestion, because what you need is to get your flair back. So “just write” is all very well & good, but sometimes we need more prompting, more pushing, something bolder. How can you “just write” when you feel bored, frustrated & uninspired? Here are my suggestions for getting the better of the thing all writers dread.
Listen to yourself
Yes, this is the first thing. Listen to what your brain & body are telling you! Maybe getting writer’s block is your body’s way of saying, “Hey, chill out!”. Maybe you just want a break, & cutting off the creative flow is the only way your body knows how to get that message to you. If that’s the case, then for god’s sake, be good to yourself! Stop drumming your pencil against the table, get up out of your chair, & do something else. Force yourself to relax & do something entirely unrelated. Watch a cheesy movie, make yourself an enormous feast, go to the gym or visit a friend.
Downtime is really important for everyone, but especially for creative people. If you don’t take a break, you’ll get really burned-out & find it even harder to recover! Don’t do that to yourself, it’s an ugly thing! Go & get a massage, dance around your living room, or just take a really good nap. Allow your brain time off. Okay, good.
Go for a walk
But what if you’re not really at the point of no return, & just feeling stuck? One of my immediate instincts in that situation is to leave my house. To me, it often feels like cabin fever is one of the major culprits — so I go somewhere else. Walking around the city, people-watching & window-shopping with good music in my ear is often all I need to clear my head & get back on form. I find that I’m much more inspired by an urban atmosphere than anything else, but you might get similar results from walking in the woods, along the beach or just up & down your driveway.
If just going for a walk seems a bit aimless to you, make it into a game. How many pink shoes will you see? How many David Hasselhoff lookalikes? Look at the outfits of oncoming pedestrians & think about what it is that makes their outfit work. Or just pay attention to the moment, the people around you, the slope of the sidewalk, your breath.
Write in another format
What do you normally write? Short stories? Articles? Advertising jingles? Raps? Forget about all that. Do something else. You just need to get back into your flow, & sometimes the best way to do that is to do something completely different. Write a haiku or a limerick. If you’re a journalist, write character sketches. If you’re a novelist, try writing a fabulous classified ad. Just do whatever you can to break yourself out of that loop you’re in.
Pick a strange subject to write about
It doesn’t have to be something you know a lot about — in fact, it can be helpful if it’s a topic about which you’re mostly in the dark. Just use your imagination! Write about taxidermy, the best ways to seduce a married man, hats in the 1920s, someone called Esmeralda who sleeps on an oriental rug & collects books on medical abnormalities. Whatever you like. The only rules are that you challenge yourself & you pick a subject that is fun to you.
Write from someone else’s perspective
You can still use your own voice, though you don’t have to. But switch up your viewpoint. If you’re a guy, write as a woman. Write as someone who has different views on politics or religion as you. Scribble down a few words as if you were your best friend, or Karl Lagerfeld, or Kathleen Hanna. Don’t judge what you’re putting down on paper, just allow it to come out. Let the character develop & evolve before you. See what happens.
Write as if you’re in your favourite city
If you don’t have a favourite city, invent one, or pick one at random! Read up on it briefly on Wikipedia, then start describing it. How do the streets smell? What do the people look like? How does it sound? Is it warm or cold? If you were walking down the road, what would you be eating? Where would you be going? Remember that you don’t have to be realistic — you could be walking down the street eating an ice-cream the size of your head while wearing a hat made from bear-skin, a pair of moonboots & holding the hand of your shiny robot boyfriend!
Use something else to write with
If you always write on your computer, grab a pen or pencil. Try using a typewriter, a paintbrush, a crayon, tomato sauce. The whole idea is to break you out of your funk & start having fun, so if you want to put a whiteboard pen between your teeth & write on the window, you definitely should.
Write a letter
Writing into the emptiness can feel a little weird sometimes, so try addressing it to someone. You could write about what you’ve been doing, apologise for something or make it up entirely. Pretend to be a 70 year old woman who sleds across the Antarctic every year, & write an account of your most recent adventures to your nervous daughter who lives in Australia. Alternatively, don’t even start off “Dear ____” — just have a person in mind as you’re writing.
Call someone & explain your writer’s block to them in extravagant, painful detail
Just what it says. Go nuts on it. If you can’t find anyone who wants to listen — which could happen, because who really wants to listen to that? — leave yourself a rabid voicemail. Play it back to yourself & laugh, breathe, remember that if writer’s block is your biggest problem right now, you’re doing okay.
Document the moment by taking photos of yourself as a tortured-looking artiste
Oh come on — you might as well have fun with it. Rim your eyes in black, muss up your hair, pout & set the auto-timer. Add an unlit cigarette & beret to the scene to up the über-pretentious ante!
Throw a tantrum
Scream. Writhe. Wriggle violently. Thrash around. Bite things. Stub your toe by accident. Really bring yourself into the present moment by being completely ridiculous. Then stand up, brush yourself off, & scribble an ode to writer’s block.
Fill your brain with inspiration
Do something that sparks you creatively. Watch a horror movie, do ballet, go & rummage in an antique store, whatever. Obviously, this will be different for everyone, but I often find that buying a huge stack of glossy, foreign fashion magazines works wonders for me. I lug them home, sit on my couch cross-legged, & start flicking through. Pretty quickly, usually, mostly just looking at the pictures. Then (& I know some people can’t stomach this idea) I bend the spine & tear out the pages which speak to me. If you want to put them all up somewhere, grab a piece of string, tie either end to your wall, & peg up the pictures you like the most. It’s the world’s cheapest (& fastest) way of displaying images, & I love the way it looks. Totally unfussy, easy to change & insanely inexpensive.
Listen to your favourite lyrics or read a passage from your favourite book
If you’re having trouble inspiring yourself, go back to the things that you know work for you. Put on a piece of your favourite music or read a couple of pages from one of your favourite books. Don’t feel the need to then jump up & spring into action, just appreciate it & let it soak into your skin. Think about it, analyse it, digest & enjoy it. Then do whatever you feel like.
Change your environment
Sometimes it helps just to try writing in another place. You might want to shift to another couch or chair, try lying on your bed, or stand up at the kitchen bench with a pen in hand. If that doesn’t work, take it a step further & leave the house. Go & write in a park, a pizza shop, standing up in the produce section of your supermarket or on the steps of a church. If the weather is awful but you still feel like have cabin fever, clean up your immediate area. I know I always write much better when I’m not being stared in the face by a pile of junk! Of course, cleaning can easily turn into a procrastinatory exercise, but if you keep yourself on track, & clean with the intention of good writing, I’m sure you’ll be just fine!
If none of the above methods work, reflexology is my fail-safe last-ditch option — usually because the other tactics are much more simple & don’t cost any money! But when your head is really dusty & dry, when your uninspired frustration reaches critical levels, reflexology is It. It has never failed me.
When I lived in Melbourne & felt burned out or unable to write, I would go to this massage shop, lie down, & let a small Chinese man perform weird tricks on my feet. (Sometimes he sang to me at the same time.) It was often quite painful, but always worked miracles. I would feel all my crazy head fog dissipate, & I would pretty much float back up to my apartment, where all of a sudden… I could write! I could whip up fabulous articles! My lust for life came back & I felt like me again.
Reflexology is completely genius. You should try it.
What are your best tips for beating writer’s block to a bloody pulp? How do you manage to triumph over the page? Let us know!