Overcoming Writer's Block
Do you remember that episode of LOST where it looks for a second like the hatch is gonna blow and send everybody on the island straight to hell (spoiler alert: they were already there). But then Desmond jams himself into a crawlspace and turns a key and suddenly, somehow, things are okay again?
You guys did watch LOST, right?
When I have a writing deadline coming up, my life starts to feel like emergency mode in that hatch. Though I may seem normal on the outside (...indulge me here), in my mind, lights are flashing, an alarm is blaring, explosions are happening and The Others (aka my editors) are about to end me if I don't somehow get it together in a hurry and turn in my assignment.
And, being a person that requires serenity and space to get myself writing to begin with, this panic button in my brain is the absolute last thing I need to get myself in go-mode. I freeze up. Big time.
It's a problem! Or at least, it used to be. Until I discovered what, for me, has worked as my own personal Desmond Hume fail-safe method for churning out quality work in a hurry. It takes about twenty minutes, but when I'm finished, I'm almost always ready to sit down and get it done.
Step 1: Morning Pages. This is an exercise from Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. 'Morning Pages' is a disciple exercise that equates to cleaning off the desk space in your mind. You don't have to do it first thing in the morning, of course, but the exercise really is most helpful when you do it first thing when you wake up, every single day.
Start with three blank pages in front of you. Writing by hand is my jam, but if you're using a computer, start with a goal of 800 words. Take a deep breath, and write -- write about the stress you're feeling, what your mood is that day, how your body is feeling, everything that's cycling around in the spin cycle of your mind. Write recklessly, without the intention of showing anyone ever -- hell, throw it out afterward, if that makes it easier for you. But scrape the ink blots and junk mail off of the workspace that is your brain. When you sit down next to write, it will feel like you have a smooth, clean canvas to work with. It's pretty amazing!
Step 2: Sun salutations. I know not everyone is into the practice of yoga. You look weird doing it and your dog interrupts you, it can be sort of irritating, especially at first. I get that. But sun salutations are a great way to get your head into a meditative sort of mindset. Plus -- and this is the real reason I recommend doing it -- it gets more blood flowing to your brain, which believe it or not, makes a huge difference in your cognitive abilities.
Here's Buzzfeed's simple pictorial guide to sun salutations; there are plenty of Youtube tutorials where you can follow along the first few times until you get the hang of doing them. Doing a full cycle of three of these will warm up your whole body. Bonus: any back pain that you typically feel from sitting in a chair typing on your computer will most likely be lessened.
Step 3: Headspace. The last thing I do before preparing for an intense round of writing or even developmental editing is to meditate. The Headspace app is pretty darn amazing if you're just starting to learn how to meditate. If you're not really into apps, there are, again, lots of resources available to learn how via the Google.
By focusing not on emptying your mind of thoughts, but on learning how to let thoughts drift through your consciousness, unencumbered, you will find that some of your best ideas are ready and waiting for you when you sit down to grind out and reach some heavy word counts. Meditating without intention or hurry in your mind will help the tension in your neck to relax and get you in that euphoric, hit-me-with-it-Orpheus zone.
As with anything, the more often you write and practice intentionally specific writing rituals, the less you will find "writer's block" attacking. In fact, I would suggest to any of my writers that by doing the three steps above, and sitting and writing in the same space at about the same time every day, writing will become a less-stressful and more-automated experience.