We’ve all experienced writer’s block—that sudden chasm that opens up between you and your next good idea.
You stand next to the yawning abyss looking forlornly at the other side, knowing that the idea for a best-selling novel, or a salable short story, or an article pitch is waiting if you could just get over there somehow.
But the bridge is down, the winds are high, and you don’t have a plane. So you put away your writing tools and head out to the grocery store or the hardware store or even the back yard where, by God, at least you’ll accomplish something today.
And what you do then is not nearly as important as what you’re not doing. You’re not writing, you’re not practicing your craft and, ergo, you’re not getting better at it.
Don’t let an imagined dearth of ideas serve as an excuse to “do something else productive.”
Hit back at writer’s block by doing this instead:
Step One: Move.
I walk (almost) every morning and listen to an audiobook. Sometimes it’s about writing or language, but sometimes it’s other self-improvement topics or just plain escapist literature—whatever is floating my boat that day. Maybe you’ll run, or dust, or do laundry. But move and pay attention to something— it gets the creative juices flowing and helps remove idea stuckages (yep, I just made that up) that contribute to writer’s block.
Step Two: Record.
I carry my phone everywhere because it has a handy-dandy “notes” app that I can use to jot things down that come into my head on the spur of the moment. Most of us have TONS of good ideas and we say “Oh, I’ll remember that,” and then we Don’t. Ever. Find. It. Again. So write it down or speak it into a voice memo app. Sometimes you don’t really have writer’s block — you have just managed to forget your best ideas!
Step Three: Collect.
I am amazed at the kinds of things that spark an idea. Sometimes it’s a phrase —
“inter-cranial jewelry making”
from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” comes to mind. I wrote it down after hearing it on her audiobook, placed it in my jar and, in due time, it metamorphosed into a short story. Sometime’s it’s a scene: One morning I was walking in a (literal) fog and it was wreaking havoc with my hairstyle. This sentence popped into my head:
“Bits of cloud stuck to her hair, reducing it to sopping tangles.”
Or how about this partial sentence pulled from the scent of the neighborhood bakery early one morning:
“…the sweet, sugary weight of doughnuts in the air…”
Or, when I was walking around the lake on a calm, windless morning:
“The placid water spurled toward the shore, the ripples erasing themselves on the sand in quiet desperation.”
I don’t usually know what I am going to do with these bright and shinies when they first come to me. But I know I will need them later, and I know they are going to grow into something beautiful. So when I get home from my walk, I transcribe each onto a colorful piece of paper and place it in a jar that I keep on a shelf in my office. When I am feeling empty and uninspired, I reach in, grab one, and let my imagination fly. Something fascinating always emerges!
See you on the next page!