When I started writing my first novel, I had ‘writing fever’. I didn’t have to try. It was like I’d turned a tap marked ‘creativity’, and ideas came gushing forth.
‘This is easy’ I thought ‘I can’t believe I didn’t do this years ago! I’ll have this novel written in no time’.
Ten days in, I had a bad day. I sat down at the desk, and there was no natural ‘flow’ of words from brain-to-fingertips-to-keyboard. I stayed at my desk, but it was as though a constrictor knot was strangling the life out of my writing. The more I tried to force words onto the page, the tighter the knot became. Eight hours later I hit my word count, but the writing was terrible. Uninspired, flat, lifeless. I was angry with myself, but mostly I was scared. I was full of fear that tomorrow would be another bad day. And there was no guarantee that it would be any better the day after. Or the day after that.
Luckily, the next day was a good day, and I’d learned that sometimes writer’s block is a very temporary thing. But I never forgot it. It dawned on me that as a writer I had no control over whether or not I had a good day, or a bad day. That there was no ‘creative tap’ that I could just turn on at will, and it terrified me. In every other job I have done, I was in charge of whether or not I would go in and do a good day’s work. There were certain things I couldn’t control, but even if I was in a bad mood, or tired, or a little sick, or just feeling low, I could still go into work and do my job. One thing I always had control over was my productivity, and whether my work was of a decent quality.
The realisation that writing didn’t work the same way shook me.
Writer’s block is a thing. Many writers have experienced it. I’m lucky that it hasn’t bedded down with me for too long at any stage. Yet. I’ve managed to find a few ways of getting things moving again if I get stuck, and so far they have all worked for me. I hope they always will.
Here are my top ten ways to get one’s groove back:
Find your calm
It can be very stressful when you hit the wall. Stress kills my writing stone dead. So if I hit the wall, stress feeds that feeling of powerlessness and puts the final nail in the coffin of my creativity.
In the past, I’ve found that refocusing and putting things in perspective are ways of combating this and finding a way to calm the panicked thoughts in my head. I like meditation or getting outside, going for a walk in the park. When I was a child/teenager, knitting and drawing were things that worked for me. But there are loads of ways to find that sense of peace. Listening to music, reading, playing an instrument, dancing, painting, yoga, cooking/baking, visiting a museum/gallery, gardening, picking up a colouring book, spending time with your pet, being with nature, valium (not valium, I’m being facetious… try magnesium first). Pick your antidote.
Read all kinds of things. Poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction. I find that it not only does reading get my creativity tap flowing, it motivates me. You’re holding the finished product of someone else’s hard work in your hands. You can do this!
Write every day
I found that my mini-blocks usually happened after I’d taken a weekend off. I find that taking even a full day off from writing can kill my flow. It is good to write every day. I mean, every day. Even if it’s just a little bit. Even if it isn’t your novel. In fact, sometimes writing a poem, blog-post or starting a short-story can be just the thing you need to reset. Whatever you do, it’s important to keep the engine ticking over.
I find walking better than other, more strenuous, forms of exercise because your focus isn’t on the movement itself or watching the clock and thinking ‘SWEET JESUS, WHEN WILL THIS TORMENT END?’. It is pure, unadulterated, thinking time with the extra benefit of bringing additional oxygen to the brain. Not only does it calm me, but it magically generates ideas and solutions. I’ve written about the magical effects of walking, here.
change your surroundings
I find that sometimes a change of scenery helps. I work in the same office day in, day out and it can feel a bit like a sarcophagus at times. Occasionally, I’ll work in a different room, or get out of the house and work in a cafe or the library. And there are people there, so it feels sociable. Sometimes, something more drastic is needed, and it’s good to get away on a mini-break or holiday, with your laptop/ word-processor/typewriter/pen and pad/quill and parchment/tablet, hammer and chisel for a couple of days.
As well as learning about your craft, open your mind to other forms of learning. Watch a documentary, learn a language (I recommend DuoLingo for this), pick up an instrument, learn to crochet. Learning opens up fresh neural-pathways in your brain, shakes up your thought-processes and give your head a kick up the backside.
It’s easy to become consumed by your novel. Writing a book is an intense and draining process, and unlike the vast majority of professions, it is mostly solitary. Being around others can spark things off. Seek out all kinds of interesting people. Especially, people that are different from you. Humans are my biggest inspiration. They are each so incredibly interesting in their own unique way. Writing groups are a great way of combining work with socialising. Learn more about the benefits of writing groups here.
Be Curious and Alive
Modern life can be a deadening thing. There’s a lot of anxiety-inducing negativity swirling about on social media, and that bleeds into everyday life. It can make the world seem like a bleak and uninspiring place. This is not the mindset a writer should have.
The world might be a dangerous place, it might be a tragic place, or a wondrous place, or a joyful place. But it has to excite you as a writer. Seek out experiences, sensations and emotions. Be mindful of your emotional responses. Ask questions of them. Explore what delights you, horrifies you, scares you, disgusts you, saddens you. Ask yourself ‘why?’
Why do I feel that way about that work of art or that piece of music? Why does that particular scene in that movie make me shudder?
I’ve written a post all about the benefits of mindfulness here.