4 Ways to Work Through a Creative Block

How to get past writer's block

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

How to Grow an Amazing Fiction Readership (She’s Novel): “Whether you want to build a full-blown career as a novelist or just bring in a few extra bucks on the side, growing your readership is pivotal to making sales. In fact, selling your stories usually goes a bit like this: Publish a book. Tell your friends and family. Realize you actually have to market this thing. FREAK OUT.”

Calling All Foodie Freelancers: 20 Dining and Food Magazines to Pitch (Kristen Pope on The Write Life): “Don’t limit yourself strictly to ‘food’ magazines and publications. Many other publications, ranging from travel to regional magazines, include a food or dining section, and even more are open to food-related pitches, so keep an open mind when trying to place stories about the culinary world.”

9 Research-Backed Ways to Spark Your Creativity (Michael Hyatt): “Creativity is essential to leadership and business. But we don’t always feel very creative. And I know some people doubt they’re creative at all. The good news is that all of us can easily become more creative.”

5 Tips for Overcoming Marketing Writer’s Block (Chadwick Cannon): “I hear a great many authors tell me that they have these great ideas for how to market their book, but when it comes time to put those big ideas on paper in a streamlined and practical way, their minds freeze up. Or that they have strong thoughts on what their promo copy should say, but then can’t get started when they finally sit down to put it on paper.”

4 Ways to Work Through a Creative Block

We all get stuck sometimes. Last night I was sitting on the balcony with Jarrett and whining about not knowing what to write for a post. We had finally called it quits with work for the day, packed away the laptops, poured the wine, and were watching a thunderstorm roll in. But I was using these precious moments of leisure to complain about the work lying ahead of me the next day.

Isn’t that always how it is? We check one day of work off then immediately start to ruminate on the next day.

I’m convinced that tomorrow’s work is the private terror of the creative mind.

As soon as we hit our goals for the day, we start dreading tomorrow, when we’ll have to sit down and face that blank page again. And what we want, more than anything, is for it to go away. And if it can’t go away, then we sure as heck better be struck by a bolt of inspiration between now and then.

It’s funny because I’ve noticed that this creative block hits most people harder with writing than editing. I remember being an editor and scratching everything else off my to-do list before I’d finally face the big item: write back cover copy. Ugh.

Writing has never been my passion—editing (and the business end of things) is where I get my kicks. So writing this blog has been such a lesson in understanding what writers and bloggers face every day. I don’t know how you all do it! I’ve always been in awe of the writing community, but after over a year of blogging, I really get it now. You guys are so brave.

But over the years, I’ve also come to realize that there isn’t a single writer or blogger out there who greets the blank page with excitement every day. It’s just not the way it works.

Even the most prolific, accomplished writers have to cajole, beg, and threaten themselves to show up to that blank page.

Yes, even Joyce Carol Oates “often has to bribe herself to write — dangling an hour or two of gardening as her reward — and gets her best ideas while vacuuming.” As she told the New York Times:

“The cleaning is something I use as a reward if I get some work done. I go into a very happy state of mind when I’m vacuuming.”

Don’t we all crave that happy state of mind when we’re right in the midst of The Hard Stuff? And it turns out that repetitive tasks like walking (or vacuuming, or chopping) allow your brain to focus on a task that it’s good at, allowing it to relax and free up power for problem-solving.

So, I’ve compiled a few ways to find your own happy state of mind, even when you’re right in the trenches of a creative battle. Some of these are practices I’ve shamelessly cribbed from my much-smarter authors, who know a thing or two about soldiering on to their best work.

But really, these are just recipes for learning how to turn off the work side of your brain when it’s the end of a long day and you’re ready to transition from writing to wine. They’ll also work when you’re stumped, staring down a tangle of ideas, and can’t bear to look at that blank page another minute.

The Walk

A path
Trees, grass, buildings, sky
A sweeping vista (optional but encouraged)
A good pair of shoes
The outfit you feel most comfortable in

Walk out of your house and start putting one foot in front of the other. If possible, leave your cellphone behind. As soon as you notice yourself bending your head and staring at the sidewalk, stop. Force your head upward, see the sky, and take a deep breath.

Repeat until your shoulders release, you can breathe deeply again, and you’ve nearly forgotten the pickle you were in.

The Chop

A large cutting board
Any vegetables you have on hand (but celery and carrots are especially delightful)
A very sharp knife that feels good in your hand

Place a single vegetable on your cutting board. Dice, as finely or coarsely as you feel like. Keep dicing, focusing on the rocking movement of the knife and the satisfying crunch of each cut. Breathe deeply and focus on the way the knife feels in one hand and the vegetable in the other. Continue until you’ve forgotten what you came to forget, or you’ve run out of vegetables.

If you’re still dwelling, make some soup. This recipe is just right for celery and carrots, or try this one for a mixed bag of veggies.

The Wipe

A clean cloth
Your favorite all-purpose cleaner (or make your own organic cleaner with this recipe)

Look around your living room and kitchen. (What a mess.) Begin clearing every last item off the surfaces, tucking them in cabinets or corners on the floor. When everything is clear, spray down a large section of counter or a piece of furniture. Wipe. Wipe slowly, in circular motions, like you’re polishing something valuable. Focus on each motion and take a deep breath between each wipe.

Ah, that looks much better. Repeat throughout the house, or until your brain feels sparkling clean.

The Doodle

A stack of blank paper
A cleared-off table
A drawing implement (watercolors are always fun and are very affordable at craft stores, but colored pencils, crayons, or markers will do)

Sit down and stare at the blank sheet of paper in front of you. What should you draw? Anything. Pick up your brush or other tool and start squiggling whatever pops in your head. Laugh at it. Keep going, not caring if any of your doodles resemble real objects or not. Get in close and notice the texture of the paper and the way the color absorbs into the fibers.

Breathe deeply and laugh at how ridiculous you feel. Repeat until that creative block seems funny and insignificant.

Are there any activities you do to relax your brain when you’re feeling stuck creatively? I’d love to hear your own recipes!

How to get past writer's block

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