Tools for When You’re Feeling Creatively Blocked

It can be hard to put words on the page at the best of time. The inner critic can rear its head, bringing on self-doubt and uncertainty, which leads to a feeling that many people call writer’s block.

However, these are not the best of times. Many folks have been shut in at home due to shelter-in-place orders, which might seem an ideal situation to increase productivity and get writing done. Instead, increased feelings of stress, uncertainty, and depression can make it harder to be creative, compounding the problem.

My own writing process has been hit or miss over the past few weeks, with stretches of no writing being marked with sudden bursts of creativity. Since I’ve been dealing with my own ambiguous feelings towards being creative, I thought I’d share a few tools or methods I use to address the feeling of being blocked when it comes up.

Not all of these ideas are going to work for everyone, so feel free to use or discard them as you see fit.

Just Write Anyway

Essentially, this is the power through it method — or what I love to call the garbage dump or word vomit method of writing. It’s an idea that I’ve pulled from Ann Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, in which she talks about “Shitty First Drafts.” The idea is to put the words on the page no matter how good or bad they are, with the idea that terrible first drafts can be later edited into something good.

My process is simple: I open up a new document and write whatever words come to my mind — and I mean any words. I usually begin with the thoughts in my head that would normally get in the way, such as “I don’t know what to write” or “This is terrible” or “I think I’d rather be watching TV.” As I continue with the flow of words, I usually get bored by those thoughts and move into writing other things, like sensory details or images or dialog. I might even come around to writing what I really want to write.

Afterwards, I’ll have a big amoeba mess of a thing, which will have to be significantly edits. However, the word flow sometimes churns out little nuggets of gold that are worth keeping.

I also find momentum to be useful. After the initial heave and heft of getting the writing ball rolling, I find it easier to continue keep the ball rolling.

Take a Breathe

Essentially, this is the process of doing a mini-meditation before starting the writing process — and it’s currently my favorite method of beginning my writing practice.

I sit in front of my computer and open the project I want to work on. Then I close my eyes with my hands resting on the table in front of me or in my lap, and I take three to ten deep breaths.

As I’m breathing, I try not to focus on any specific thoughts. Instead I let the thoughts flow through my head, like words passing on a screen. And as I continue breathing, I might ground myself into the space further by acknowledging my body within the space around me — the table, the chair, the light through the window.

After I’ve completed several breaths, I open my eyes and begin writing. I find this process of breathing helps to center myself into the present moment by clearing out the anxieties and thoughts of self doubt and other things that get in the way. It makes me more focused and allows me to bring more clarity to my writing, making for a more productive writing session.

Take a Step Back and Walk Away

You don’t have to write right now. Things are hard right now and sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity is to give yourself a break. It’s okay.

One of the things I do is to intentionally give myself permission to take a time off — to the extent that I will literally say to myself (either in my head or out loud), “I give myself permission to not write today” or this week or even this month.

I do this for a very specific reason — it’s a way to battle the shoulds, which come with an associated feeling of guilt. I can think back to any number of times when I’ve been reading a book, playing a video game, or taking a walk and my brain chimes in with , What do you think you’re doing? You should be writing, right now.

Guilt about not writing is insidious. It can compound all those feelings of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that led to the feeling of being blocked in the first place.

Giving myself explicit permission to do something other than writing shuts down those shoulds, providing a clear space to really enjoy whatever I’m doing. That way, I’m able to really recharge and, when I’m ready, I can come back to the writing refreshed.

Thank you for watching and/or reading! I hope you found these tools helpful. Are there any methods that you use deal with feeling blocked that I haven’t mentioned?

This was first published in A Seed to Hatch, my newsletter on the writing life and things writers might find interesting. If you enjoyed reading this, please check it out and subscribe.

2 Replies to “Tools for When You’re Feeling Creatively Blocked”

  1. Thank you for this. I was doing the “just write anyway” method for a few weeks recently, and it was somewhat effective but somewhat not. Often I was frustrated by feeling that what I was typing was pointless nonsense, so I have been trying another strategy of simply sitting and thinking in a concerted way about story ideas. I’ve recorded a few promising notes but not otherwise been typing anything, and I think I’m gradually making my way toward a story I may have some enthusiasm for working on. Fingers crossed!

    1. I’m so glad that you found this helpful. I love the method of sitting and thinking on stories, too. Sometimes when I’m struggling with something it’s because I haven’t worked enough of it out yet. I hope your story comes to fruition!

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