Sometimes when you write, you sit down at your computer and the words come tripping from your fingers, practically stumbling over each other in their haste to get on the page.
But other times it all comes to a screeching halt and like a gobstopper over your windpipe, suddenly there’s no air and certainly no words. Those tricky little buggers have deserted you and they show little sign of coming back. You look at the computer screen, that cursor blinking at you accusingly and suddenly your 500-2000 word daily limit may as well be an interstellar distance so vast it’s over in the delta quadrant (Star Trek tragics will know what I’m talking about here – live long and prosper my nerdling brethren).
Anyway, mostly I’m lucky because this doesn’t happen to me too often, but when it does, it feels like I’ve been smacked in the forehead by a brick wall. It’s this very sensation that has inspired me, over the years, to come up with a few tricks for getting the word river flowing again. If this has happened to you, read on and maybe some of my subterfuge will trick your brain back to work like it does mine.
I do this to wake my brain the hell up mostly on the train at the start of my long morning commute. Basically, you just write whatever comes into your head, editing nothing. It’s meant to wake you up and help turn off your internal critic. To be honest, mine is part journal, part free writing, but I have to be careful with the journal part because, given that I’m writing it on the train at an obscene time in the morning, my writing can turn into one massive whinge fest. Usually about how tired I am. It’s very tedious. But in general free writing is like applying WD40 to a creaky old push mower and before I know it I’m cutting my word count down for the day.
Going for a walk
Or whatever exercise does it for you – being scandalously unfit, walking is good enough for me. I find this is most helpful when I’ve woken up feeling a bit flat and duller than a blonde brick fence. I know that in this frame of mind my writing will have all the charm and vibrancy of a wet sock and so I need to get the endorphins going. The best thing for that, I’ve found is a bit of exercise. It’s also good for calming the brain if that’s the problem – you know when your thoughts are pinging around like a flea on steroids and you just need to focus. That’s when I use a little mindfulness on my walk. I don’t concentrate on my breathing (if I do this I end up hyperventilating – I’m just neurotic enough that I start to doubt whether I have this breathing thing right at all. Too fast? Too slow? Too shallow? You get the idea). Instead, I concentrate my attention on the sounds and colours around me – calms my brain right down.
Reading over my work
I find that reading the last few paragraphs or the last chapter of what I’ve written can be enough to get me into that writing brain space. I have enough of an ego to be thoroughly entranced by my own words, so I may as well use this to my advantage.
This let’s your mind wander while keeping you occupied and it’s relaxing enough that I find it helps to get the brain into that creative head space. But you have to be careful that it’s something you’re happy to do and not something you find too tedious and irritating. So for example, the washing up is my go-to activity for a helpfully tedious creative limber up. But putting the washing on the line just annoys the snot out of me because the Hills Hoist is lopsided so every time I put a towel up there the whole the just swings out of my grasp and I have to hang on to it with one hand while trying to get those little pegs up the right way and all I want to do is yank that thing out of the ground with my bare hands and throw it across the yard! I think you get the picture.
Listen to or watch an interesting podcast/documentary
This is great if you’re feeling a bit dull because it can really get the brain sparking with new ideas. I have a number of brilliant podcasts I listen to that inspire loads new stories. And as I writer I’m open to plundering ideas wherever I can get them. Some of my faves are: This American Life, Conversations with Richard Fidler, Criminal, Strangers, Late Night Live and The Moth Podcast.
So that’s it, that’s how I beat the dreaded writer’s block. Hopefully, these tips will be of some use to you, too. But if all that fails, just bear in mind the sage words of author Phillip Pullman:
“If you can’t think of what to write, tough luck: write anyway”
*What are your tricks for getting the creative brain going?