Every writer knows what its like to get stuck. We’ve all drummed our pens against the empty page or counted the blinks of the cursor against a blank screen. So when it’s time to write but you’re having trouble tapping into the creative mindset, what’s a writer to do?
Many times it’s important to muscle through the sticky patches. We learn as we face down adversity, but it can also be key to step away for a few moments, refresh, refocus, and open up the mental pathways.
Here are some of my go-to tricks for preparing to set aside distractions and tap into creativity.
For most of us, this is how we got our start in the first place. Books have given us the stories that inspired us to tell our own. They’re our first training in writing before we ever set pen to page. So why not go back to where it all started?
So when you’re not feeling it at writing time spend a little time reading a good book. Revisit an old favorite or get sucked into something new. Just choose something that will lead you towards the story you’re working on. Not every book is suited to this task, so consider your selection. (We’ll talk about this more in another post.)
I have often found that starting the flow of words through my brain–and so clearing my mind of the distractions and to-do lists helps to open my own stash of words.
Reading before writing is like stretching your imagination before jumping into the task ahead.
Take a walk.
Get the blood pumping and fill your lungs with fresh air. As you walk, practice mindfulness. Take notice of what’s going on around you. Wander along a path you haven’t visited before. Engage all of your senses. Observe different times of day and seasons of the year. Simply put–pay attention. We spend so much of our lives running from task to task with our heads down and focused on what has to be accomplished that we miss much of the world around us.
Pay attention to your thoughts in addition to your surroundings. This is a great time to let your mind wander, to explore the paths your imagination opens up to you.
The benefits of taking a walk before writing are numerous. Writing is a sedentary task, so physical activity is an important habit in the writer’s life. Not only that, but you’ll find the activity will help clear your mind and renew your energy. You’ll also have carved out a portion of your day to gather material; simply noticing is an important tool in the writer’s repertoire. And, what’s more, you’ll have taken your imagination out for a spin so you’ll be ready to go for writing time.
Many ideas–ranging from whole story concepts to a single delicious sentence–have come to me while out for a walk. But it won’t happen every time. There’s no need to force it or get frustrated. Instead, practice enjoying the journey. Whether inspiration strikes now or later, you’ll return to your writing desk feeling refreshed.
Take a shower.
What’s more relaxing than a hot shower?
I get frustrated really quickly when the words aren’t coming. That frustration opens the door to the lies and doubts that are so poisonous. I often have to step back and find a way to relax. While a hot shower doesn’t always result in new ideas as often as a walk (for me, at least), it’s a way to pause, step back, and put things back in perspective.
When it’s time to write again, I’m generally more patient with the process and more open to the story I have to tell.
Peel some potatoes.
Surprised? This trick actually comes from Gail Carson Levine’s book on writing, Writing Magic. I read this tip years ago (when I was in elementary school!) and it’s stuck with me ever since. When Levine suggests peeling a hundred potatoes to generate ideas, she’s pointing out how sometimes the most mundane tasks generate creativity.
Find a chore or a task that allows you to enter into some sort of rhythm or repetition. When I was working in an office during college, I learned to enjoy the days of stuffing seemingly endless envelopes or fashioning information booklets. As I went through the motions my mind was free to roam.
When you’ve finished the task, you’ll hopefully have a kernel of an idea that sends you scurrying back to your desk and you’ll be able to cross something off your to-do list.
So tap into the power of the mundane. We tend to seek excitement to generate ideas, but inspiration is often right around the corner.
A note of caution.
None of these are magic fixes. Nothing replaces sitting down and setting pen to page. While these tips are helpful, we also have to be careful that these practices lead us back to writing rather than turning into excuses to avoid the task at hand. We can easily slip into an attitude of waiting for inspiration. If we do that, we’re liable to wait a very long time. But if you put these tips to work for you, you’ll be placing yourself in the environment and frame of mind that will encourage the words to get out of your head and onto the page.
So, tell me. What are your favorite ways to get the words flowing? Your suggestions just might be the big break another writer needs.