How I beat writer's block
There's scene in Disney’s The Lion King that I love: Simba and Nala are poking around the forbidden elephant graveyard. Simba, perched in front of a massive, decaying skull, declares wildly, “I laugh in the face of danger!”
Since nothing good comes from showy bravado, as soon as Simba lets out his laugh, three mangy hyenas emerge from the skull, and Simba and Nala only narrowly escape the hungry jaws.
That scene captures perfectly my attitude toward writer’s block: when my writing is flowing effortlessly, I feel confident. Cocky, even. When I’m tripping up on my words, though, I’m scared writer’s block is an evil hyena that’ll swallow me whole. How do I slay the writer’s block beast? Three ways:
Practice, Practice, Practice
Writing’s not just something you do; it’s a muscle you have to exercise daily. You’d never take a three-month break from the gym and expect on your first day back to bench 250 pounds. Just like you have to condition your muscles and build up to that 250, to be a strong writer you have to dedicate time each day to developing your writing muscle.
To keep my writing sharp, I try to spend at least 10 minutes a day putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys). When I’m in need of help to get me going, I check out writingprompts.tumblr.com, I write detailed accounts of dreams, or I’ll write my own silly responses to advice column questions in magazines lying around the house. I never place too much importance on what I’m writing, just that I’m writing.
Stop! (Hammer Time!)
Sometimes, when writer’s block has you in a choke-hold, you have to call a time out. It isn’t productive to sit and stare at your blank computer screen. And besides, staring at a lack of words might even worsen your writer’s block. Nasty little cycle!
But here’s the beautiful thing: you can stop it! Stand up! Stretch! Take a break to completely clear your mind. Like the phenomenon of getting a date when you’re not looking, ideas might flow more freely to you when you’re not rigorously hunting them down. My go to breaks: a walk around the rose garden near my office, some type of chocolate indulgence, or – most often – a five minute dance break. I recommend MC Hammer. Find what works for you, and then let yourself relax a little.
Remember, though, that as soon as you take your break, your brain might be so thrilled that it lobs you a brilliant, writer’s-block-crushing thought. Always have a pen and paper close by (or a smart phone with voice recorder), so you can capture those ideas as they come up.
Talk it out
Riffing on taking breaks, sometimes you have to take a break from writing, but not the idea-generating process, to quell writer’s block. When I find myself stuck, I find it helpful to verbalize my ideas. I’ll either grab coffee with a friend to talk through my ideas, or I’ll talk aloud to myself. Hearing thoughts read aloud can breathe life and clarity into your writing; verbalizing can open you up to an entirely new world of inspiration and ideas. Approaching your writing from a communal vantage point – involving others in idea generation, editing, and more – is a fail-safe for generating new energy and content around a written piece.
You know what can’t survive when you’re full of ideas, energy and inspiration? Writer’s block.