Friday, October 12, 2012

How to Beat Writers Block

I presented these tricks to a group of women when I was asked to speak at the Lowcountry Romance Writers Association Beach retreat last winter. They're an amalgamation of tricks I would tell my writers to do when I was editing, and more so, tricks I've learned to help myself in times of need.

Writing Faery Tale was one thing, and I used plenty of these tactics. But I also do the occasional travel writing for publications, food reviewing, and articles I want to pitch to national women's magazines. These tricks have become not just solutions to blockages, but a way of life. So I wanted to share them with you, in hopes they might help you should you ever find yourself stuck - with any creative endeavor!

1. Make Time to Meditate
It may sound whacky if you haven't tried it, but meditation offers so many benefits for writers and artists, too, I'd imagine. It helps me ease my anxiety. It helps me quiet my over-active mind, which tends to go and go and go at night until I've worked myself into a frenzy of what-if's and I-can'ts. Most importantly, when we meditate, we are placing ourselves in a mode that is receptive. My friend Shaman Jon made a great point when he discussed with me the difference energetically between meditation and prayer. I think writers tend to pray a lot: "Please, please let me finish this book," or "Please, please let my agent like it," or "Please, please let me see that I sold more than 1 copy in all of America this week." Sometimes we pray to give thanks, or of course to try to help others in need. Whatever it is, when you pray, you're sending energy out. (Often desperate energy, too, I might add.) When you meditate, you are making yourself open, receptive, quiet, calm. You're putting yourself in a completely different energetic state - it's an active state. Meditation, on the other hand, is open. It allows. It doesn't fight, it doesn't block, it prepares the ground to receive its seeds. Meditation creates the space for us to watch, listen, and become passive observers of both our own thoughts and the world around us. This, I think, is the best state to be living in if you want to be inspired.

2. Create the Perfect Environment
Do you write best at a desk? Need a room of your own? Propped up on the couch? In a coffee shop? (I absolutely cannot write in coffee shops. But they can be a great place to go if you feel stuck, miss human interaction, need an "office" or need a change of venue. Then it's back to my desk.)

Do you write best morning, day, or night? It's important to study yourself in productive mode like you would an animal in the zoo. What does Writer-You like best to eat when Writer-You is writing? etc. I spoil myself when I'm on deadline for something, and it really does help me get it done.
Other things that help create atmosphere:
- a nice scented candle
- clean burning incense
- ear plugs (I actually have them in right now)
- or music (if the quiet bothers you)
- turn off your internet browser (leave any research points blank and designate them for a day when you're stuck in your writing. Then you can surf and library away.)
- a fancy bar of chocolate, hidden so no one can find it but you, when you really need it.
- delicious tea or strong coffee. Brew a cup, then butt in chair.
- special jewelry. Think of it as your talisman. I have certain things I wear only when writing.
- for goodness sake, turn off your cell phone. Off! There's nothing quite like a ringing phone or bleep of a text message to wrench you from your glorious receptive state of creative bliss and then you've got to start all over again.
- close the door. And tell your friends and family that when the door is shut, you mean business.

3. But... Know When you Need to Leave Your Environment
Everyone has their own unique tricks that work for them. I know a lot of writers who force themselves to write words on paper, even if it becomes stream of consciousness, to keep from getting stuck. That has never worked for me. I have a rather "Type-A" relationship to the page, and I absolutely refuse to degrade it with: Oh what will I have for lunch today? God, I wish I could write something... blah blah blah..

I just can't do it, it makes me cringe. When I get truly stuck, I've found things that help me to still move forward in a positive direction. Once I discover the well is dry that day, I'll instead designate the time for research. There is a stack of about 10 books on my desk for the current project. You can also find documentaries on Netflix about your subject - those I tend to watch nights or weekends. Still technically work, so long as your learning something and you take notes. Movies can be a great source of inspiration for clothing styles and character traits for fiction, I've found. Changing your venue can also work. Get up and go for a walk. Get present. Notice the things around you. This gives your brain a break and also gets you out of that "I'm stuck I'm stuck I'm stuck" mantra that you're sitting in the chair beating yourself over the head with.

4. Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help
You can get help from a friend (though I would warn you to be very careful who you speak with about creative projects. Sometimes you can get too many cooks in the kitchen, and it can throw you off track.) From a professional editor, OR from "out there."

The "out there" sort is a favorite of mine. Think of it as inviting the muse. I truly believe inspiration for creative projects comes from somewhere outside of us too - it's not ours, we don't own it. This is why we say we were "inspired." Ask for help. Maybe even make an offering of flowers, incense, etc. Then pay attention to things that cross your path. Be receptive. See how your story unfolds - where will inspiration find you? It could be a story you notice on the news, something somebody mentions to you in passing, but it'll grab you. When you're struck by something, when it grabs you, write it down. Don't question it or try to make sense of it. Trust that you wouldn't be struck by it if it wasn't somehow a piece to your puzzle. It's of value.

5. Remember that We are Only the Scribes.
There are so many stories out there waiting to be discovered. All they can do is knock on the doors that lead to our visions - this miraculous thing we call "imagination." We just have to allow ourselves to receive it. Our job becomes to get up and open the door.
Then, step gracefully out of the way.


  1. These are excellent recommendations, indeed, for many areas of creativity! Mine tends to get starved by a lack of nature in close proximity - I really need it to be within walking distance of my home, and preferably relatively private, but that's just not always an option. So I have to remind myself to go seek it out.

  2. Thank you for these hints. I work best under pressure if I know I have a deadline. But I do not work well under pressure from others as far as life's little demands people put upon ourselves which we did not ask for...but that is life in the fast lane and sometimes there is no getting around it. We do what we have to do, or need to do.