As frustrated as I often become when writers endlessly blame their “blockage” for not getting their work done — it can’t ALWAYS be that; there are probably other things going on that need to be addressed — it does happen. There are moments when you do sit down and have every intention of writing and just can’t turn that blank page into something worthwhile.
Over the years, I’ve created a strategy that has helped me prevent experiencing writer’s block on MOST occasions. I say MOST because I am the furthest thing from perfect and being a writer is not about being flawless, it’s about being honest and just trying your gosh darn hardest.
Here’s what I recommend if you want to make your battles with writer’s block less frequent.
Establish a pre-writing routine. You have a morning routine (ideally). You have a bedtime routine. The rituals you perform, often subconsciously, before you complete a specific task help you mentally prepare for what’s ahead, whether that’s clearing your head, winding down, or psyching yourself up for something challenging. If you do it already for other parts of your life, why not apply the same concept to writing?
If you want to ensure — as much as you can — that you’re going to write without distraction or struggle, you need to find a way to center yourself and prepare to enter “the zone.” Think of it as your own personal meditation, even if you don’t favor the idea of what we traditionally think of when we hear the term.
It took me a long time to realize that meditation can mean pretty much whatever you want it to mean, and can achieve the same sense of calm regardless of how you get there.
Maybe for you this requires sitting in the dark with your eyes closed for 10 minutes before you start writing. Or perhaps you precede every writing session with a walk, a delicious snack, or another trip to the coffee maker.
I need music. Three to five minutes of immersive, uninterrupted song. My song of choice changes with the seasons, but nine times out of 10, whatever I choose prepares me for all the writing I’m about to do, even on days I’m just not feeling like it.
I’ve started this sort of ritual every time I sit down to write. I plug in my headphones, close my eyes, hit play, and for just one song, my only goal is to get lost in it. And it works almost every single time. I emerge from that three- or four-minute block of time and I’m ready to write SOMETHING. I don’t always know what, but I know I’m ready to go.
Of course this isn’t a guaranteed method — we all have those days when we just can’t “get into it” no matter how hard we try. But it’s possible that figuring out what gets you “creatively motivated” — I realize the word I was just looking for is “inspired” and I’m leaving this in the final draft because this is my blog and I do what I WANT — can help you avoid frustrating nights of feeling blocked and unmotivated in the future.
Before your writing session ends, decide what you’re going to work on next time. I’ve personally found that writing out my to-do lists the night before mentally prepares me for the day ahead unlike anything else can. The same idea has also worked when “leaving” a writing session.
In discovering that I am most creative right after I’ve finished working on something — a flow state truly is a blessing as well as a curse — I realized that for me, the best time to plan ahead for the future was while I was still sitting at my desk, feeling energized and motivated (most of the time).
Now, before I log out of my blog and move on to other things, I always have an idea for tomorrow’s post written down and ready to go. If I happen to come up with another idea in the meantime and don’t end up choosing the specific one from the night before, that’s fine. But on days when it takes all the energy and willpower I have to simply write a post, it helps to already have an idea in place when I sit down to write.
This might not work for you — and that’s totally understandable. Some prefer to come up with an idea and execute it in the same sitting. Others prefer to just let the ideas come to them when they come to them without “forcing” it. I believe there’s a time for spontaneity and a time to plan when it comes to ideas, but that’s just me. The whole point is that you do what you’ve found works for you by trying different things and setting aside the methods that hurt more than they help you.
Come up with an “emergency creativity burst” plan. Let’s be honest: Sometimes, the words just don’t want to come out and there is almost nothing more frustrating than WANTING to write but feeling like YOU JUST CAN’T DO IT.
As much as we can try to completely prevent writer’s block from standing in our way, every day can’t be a good day no matter how hard you wish for it. But what you CAN do is prepare for the worst, so that if and when it does happen, you’re not left completely helpless.
In some cases, your emergency go-to can be the same thing you used to get yourself into the proper mental state before you even started writing. Surprise, surprise — I turn back to my music when my brain needs a minute (or three) to breathe. Maybe you just need a quick walk. Or a snack. Or a shower.
When I sit down to write and unexpectedly feel stuck — or I’m in the middle of writing and my brain seems to go completely blank, which is crazy and weird but TOTALLY HAPPENS — I rely on my own personal methods for igniting the creative “flow” that has spontaneously died.
Have this plan in place JUST IN CASE all your preventative efforts don’t produce the results you’d hoped for. I can only speak from my own experience, but this has saved me countless hours of frustrated, unproductive writing time. I know going in that if and when I get stuck, I need to stand up and force myself into another world for a few minutes. A few minutes is all it takes. Getting back into writing is still a challenge, but I do it with a clearer head and a more open mind.
That’s the thing so many aspiring writers haven’t learned yet: If you’re not open to every possibility your ideas could try to lead you, you’re going to trap yourself in an invisible box. You have to dare to “go there.” You have to learn to worry less about the final product — for now — and more about the process of creating it.
Whatever it takes for you to get to that place where you’re willing to jump in and let your creativity lead the way — within reason — do it. Dance it out, scream, do push-ups,
And if your argument is, “But I write in public and I don’t want people to look at me weird!” LISTEN … you’re a writer. There is no point in trying to hide the fact that you are not a normal human being. Whatever it takes. I’d be hesitant to start dancing in the middle of Starbucks too, but honestly, if doing so meant I might actually finish my novel, I’ll dance until someone asks me very nicely to please stop embarrassing myself.
Being a writer is hard. Managing ideas is hard. Writing when your brain won’t cooperate — or trying to — is very hard. But with the right strategies stored away for future use, you might be able to make all this just a little easier on yourself. Fingers crossed.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.