Inevitably, we writers and creative types hit periods where the muse seems to have gone on vacation. Life stresses annoyingly obstruct our ability to get into our stories. Writer’s block hits. Sometimes it hits hard.
Here are seven suggestions for what I do when I’ve hit a creative rough patch:
- Exercise — Get to a pilates class. Take a jog or bike ride. Hit the trails and be outside. Exercise boosts creativity. It also helps lessen the depressive effects of writer’s block. Also I find it helps get your thoughts off the nagging problem that’s invaded your writing. At least temporarily.
- Relax — Nothing stops insights cold like stress. That’s why that hot shower or nap seems to yield a sudden, unexpected burst of insight. Try meditating: sitting comfortably in a quiet spot and focus your attention on bringing your breath through your nose slowly and out your mouth. Push away any invading thoughts. Deep breathing relaxes you, and meditation clears the head so you can focus with new clarity on your story. (By the way, studies show that caffeine inhibits the kind of right-brain thinking that produces insights. While caffeine is great for getting through an afternoon writing marathon where left-brain get-to-work stamina is needed, that cup of coffee might prevent you from getting an insight into how to resolve a story issue.)
- Revise — If the insights just aren’t coming, if you just can’t figure out what to write for your next chapter, then spend some time revising. Go back and re-read some earlier chapters and scenes. You’ll feel productive, and possibly notice something in revising that will help steer your story in a new, exciting direction.
- Read — Sometimes reading certain books—especially if the writer has a strong, particular style—can derail my writing. I made the mistake of re-reading Charles Frazier’s wonderful Cold Mountain while I was working on The White City, and I had to spend weeks getting that densely descriptive Frazier-style out of my writing. But sometimes, re-reading my favorite books helps me bring out a better voice for my writing. It’s not mimickery. I suppose it’s just getting inspired by the feel of that richly-told story. Lately, I’ve found myself going to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book or Lev Grossman’s The Magicians to get inspired.
- Talk — Call up a writing bud and get together for coffee or drinks. Talk about what’s going on with your story. Maybe he or she will have suggestions. Or maybe just the act of verbalizing the issues will help you find a resolution. If nothing else, it’ll be fun hanging out. You really need to get out of the house more anyway! Having a creative community, whether it’s a critique group, SCBWI, or taking a workshop, is a wonderful engine for the imagination.
- Weird Out — I read about a study where a group was asked to name the color of an image. The researchers sometimes planted someone in the group to shout out “pink” if the image was really red or “turquoise” if it was green. The group then had to perform a creativity exercise. The groups where someone shouted out an odd answer did better. Why? The strange answers got all the participants thinking out of their comfort zones and stretched their imaginations. Do something that gets your thinking in a weirder, less everyday place. Look at some Surrealist art. Listen to a scratchy old jug band recording. Watch a wacko art film. Find ways to weird out a little.
- Play — Find some other creative outlet for a little while. Write a poem or pull out the guitar from the closet. Doodle a picture or try out a new recipe. Doing something else creative can bring some cross-pollination of ideas to your art. Sometimes when I’m helping my daughter dress baby dolls or build a fairy house out of sticks in our backyard, I’ll find head gets into that childlike and thus more creative place where new ideas are awakened.
I hope these suggestions help you the next time you’re having your own creative tough times. If nothing else, know that they will pass. We all have bad days. And we all get through them. A better, more creative day is ahead.