In the Moment: Five Methods to Break Writer’s Block

I know quite a few people who struggle with writer’s block day in and day out. They often ask me how I keep it going – I have, after all, been going for a year now with only the occasional bout of the dreaded block, handled fairly handily. So I thought I’d compile a list of my Top Five recommendations for dealing with writer’s block. Now keep in mind, these are just techniques that work for me, specifically, but I think they can help others to get the muse fired up again.

  • Just Write. I know, you’re thinking “if I was able to just write, I’d be here right now doing it.” That’s not quite what I mean. What I mean is for you to sit down, start a timer for five minutes, put your fingers on the keys, and just go. It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing makes any sense at all. You can just type “mayonnaise” over and over again. If you can type without looking, close your eyes. Try to feel the words that you’re putting out on the page. This is one of my most effective block-breakers; I put some music on (aware this may not work for some), close my eyes, and just go. The music helps to turn off my internal editor, as does closing my eyes. If I’m not looking at what I’m writing, it tends to help the flow of words. If I look, I might notice that something’s misspelled or a comma that’s out of place, and it will just slow me down. Errors don’t matter. All you’re trying to do is get some words out and get used to the idea of flowing. Could be that some emotional blockage is going on, and you need this to reset.

  • Take yourself on a date. Yes, I first got this from Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. She introduced the concept of taking yourself out once a week to keep your sense of wonder alive, whether it was going out in the country by yourself to look at leaves or taking yourself out to see a movie. The point isn’t really what you do, though I imagine some activities are more imagination-firing than others. The key, instead, is to nurture yourself and become in touch with yourself. To see yourself as a person who’s worthy of that kind of attention. Sometimes just being able to see yourself in that fashion can bring up the emotions or thoughts needed to get the juices flowing.

  • Play with a toy. I’m not kidding. I keep action figures on my desk. I know it looks childish, but the point isn’t to be a man- or woman-child about it – well, not directly. The point, more, is that sometimes when you’re writing, you need to be in touch with your inner child, the part that always had a story to go with the toys. I know when I’m suffering from a balky imagination, sometimes that the only thing that will get me going is taking those figures and posing them. The act of simply doing that, five seconds of time spent connecting with one, and the imagination starts flowing again. I’m quite surprised at how effective this is.

  • Sing. My chosen venue of singing is the video game Rock Band. You may just want to put on some music, and if you’re shy, you obviously want to do this when no one is around. I can tell you, though, that I have had plenty of moments when I’ve been sitting at my desk, unsure what comes next, and I’ve decided to take a break – half an hour at most – and sing a few songs. Almost invariably, when I return, my right brain is fired up and ready to go. I think it’s that when you’re singing, you have to be creative in the moment without the editorial filter going in your head – it’s pure reaction at what’s coming to you. At least, specifically in Rock Band.

  • Meditation. When all else fails, this is my go-to. Meditation can take many forms; sometimes going for a walk can suffice. Sometimes I sit in the lotus position. Form isn’t what’s important here. What’s important is getting back in touch with who you are and where you are. I think, at times, our internal editors represent a process that distances us from the immediacy of what’s happening around us. That can be helpful psychologically; sometimes what’s happening in the moment is just too much. Too much information to process or too much emotion brought up by what you’re writing, so you instinctively slam on the brakes and pull back. Meditation is the most effective way to ease off the brakes and start going again. At least, for me.

You’ll notice that all of these steps have one thing in common: it’s about removing that barrier between yourself and the moment. Good writing comes from living in the moment. Even if you’ve plotted, you still have to sit down and actually do it. You may have to have the plot in mind, but you have to be in touch with yourself on a moment-to-moment basis in order to authentically evoke your characters’ emotions. To me, writing is acting, and acting is being able to empty myself and bring forth my character. In order to do that, I have to be in the moment.

So give some of these a try! I’m curious how they work for you.

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12 Comments

  1. “Removing that barrier between yourself and the moment” is valuable advice. An author must live life and reach that point of relaxation to allow the thoughts and ideas to flow into the thought process. I use working out (running) as well as music and a long drive down the interstate or in the country. But remember this piece of important advice – get it down immediately either on a notepad or scratch piece of paper or by voice on tape! When those nuggets come you don’t want to lose them.

  2. “Removing that barrier between yourself and the moment” is valuable advice. An author must live life and reach that point of relaxation to allow the thoughts and ideas to flow into the thought process. I use working out (running) as well as music and a long drive down the interstate or in the country. But remember this piece of important advice – get it down immediately either on a notepad or scratch piece of paper or by voice on tape! When those nuggets come you don’t want to lose them.

  3. I really like the tip of playing with a toy! It allows your mind to be distracted from the task at hand, but to still be very active and creative. It’s like stretching after straining during a workout–or in this case a mental workout. I may need to start practicing this the next time my mind cramps up with writer’s block before my next blog!

  4. Great post, Jonathon! I’ve used most of these but not the action figures and the singing–I also read Julia Cameron’s book and the “morning pages” were extremely helpful, kind of like how you described just putting your fingers on the keys…write gibberish if necessary.

  5. Great ideas here, I like the “take a vacation” one the best. I love being off al by myself becoming one with nature.

  6. Pingback: The Last Stop and Learning How to Embrace Failure! « thebizarreworldofasupermarketgraduate

  7. fabulous list! pulling out my old meditation cd from back in the day and going to give myself some time right now! I wish I could type with my eyes closed. Perhaps IO shouild work on that. (I wrote that last bit without looking!) Thanks for the great post.

  8. Meditation does it for me 🙂

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