5 helpful ways to combat writer’s block
I am a writer, by nature, by choice, by profession. I write memoir and fiction. But I write all sorts of things, really. I have written for television and for scholarly journals; I write funding applications and grocery lists; I write a blog that a dozen devoted readers follow and poetry that I do not share with anyone. As PGRs, even those who do not consider themselves to be writers must produce, what is for many, the single largest composition of their lives. THE THESIS. We must all become writers. And yet, how many of you have been brought to tears over a blank page and the lack of motivation to start scribbling. How many of you have sat down to a screen and stared at the cursor on a blank page? As it blinks. Mocking you.
The answer is ALL. ALL OF YOU. ALL OF US. We have all suffered from writer’s block.
There are some very interesting theories about what causes writer’s block. The very term “writer’s block” was first introduced into the academic literature in the 1940s by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler, whose books seem to represent the miseries of life: covered such cheery topics as mid-life crisis, loveless marriages, gambling, and self-defeating behaviors. I bet he was a real fun guy at parties.
Yale University psychologists Barrios and Singer found that blocked writers were unhappy, with specific links to symptoms of depression and anxiety, increased self-criticism, symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorders and procrastination, perfectionism, and feelings of helplessness. Again, none of these surprise us as PGR students. We know or are someone who has struggled with these emotions.
So let’s talk about what we can do about it! (Four Tips and Challenges)
GET OUT! (unplug)
Sometimes getting out of your headspace (including blocked ones) means getting out of your physical space. You don’t have to hit the gym or take up jogging (although there are great blogs on walking and swimming in our archives for the reading!) but this means physically changing your location – away from where you write. Find the furthest or most inconvenient cup of coffee and go get it. Get away from your laptop and tech! Meditation (with a timer) is great for recharging. There are many programs at the UofG Sport, but you can also do small things with big impact, like taking out the recycling, offering to help your neighbor with yard work, using your phone to actually TALK to another human being (versus texting) who might also need to hear a friendly voice and take a wee break.
Challenge: Try to be active and/or away from your desk - during your work day! - for at least 90 minutes every day.
2. DO SOMETHING ELSE (create in other ways)
CRAFTING is scientifically proven to help fight anxiety and depression. (Looking for a new one? We sponsor crafting days in the Gilchrist!) Adult coloring (including fun curse word ones), painting, knitting, creating art, playing and/or writing music - any creative endeavors that does not involve writing- all have tremendous benefits to both relieving pressure and stimulating your brain. Working on another creative project for a few hours a day can help clear the mind and increase focus, bringing the ideas flowing once you return to your writing.
Challenge: Instead of that extra hour of tv tonight? Try doing something creative without tech instead. 60 minutes, three times a week.
3. DESIGNATE CERTAIN TIMES FOR CERTAIN WRITINGS (consider return-on-investment)
I have habits in place to help me write, to help schedule time to devote to the kinds of writing I need to get accomplished each day. Yesterday, for example, I did nothing but answer emails and do administrative work. Not one demonstrative word of writing towards the degree I have actually moved to Scotland to pursue. Time-consuming does not equal productive.
The administrative writing or “business” of being a student is often as time-consuming as being a student. Anyone who’s ever poured countless hours into a grant or funding application knows this. You spend days constructing impressive applications that might yield you a PT job or internship (that pays just enough to cover your groceries, if you’re lucky) and at the end of the day, you feel guilty for not working on your thesis. Designate TIME for thesis writing that is separate from the things that live in your inbox. For instance, every Wednesday, I go to the Mitchell Library and write on nothing but my thesis, from anywhere from four to eight hours. No internet. Just reading, writing, and revising. I find that by setting aside this entire day, I don’t get nearly as upset about having “wasted” a Monday doing Admin or catching up on overdue emails.
Challenge: Set aside (and defend!) 3 (or more) consecutive hours of thesis writing. Away from your regular writing spot. (Bonus challenge: come find me in the Mitchell on a Wednesday!)
4. LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA (eliminate distractions, choose your battles wisely)
Much easier said than done, but as far as procrastination goes, this tops this list in the 21st century. While some people can find stimulation, most find it mixed with healthy doses of frustration and simple time-wasting.
Challenge: Take FB off your phone for one week.
5. FREEWRITING AND FREE ASSOCIATION TECHNIQUES (don’t knock it til you try it)
While it might seem callous and counter-intuitive to tell someone with writer’s block to “just write” studies have shown that writing without restraints can lead to some of your best, most focused writings. Freewriting can also be done anywhere, anytime, making a long bus ride or an afternoon in a coffee shop both ideals time to doodle and get the brain buzzing. You can do it alongside others, as well if you feel that part of your block is caused by feelings of isolation (writing can sometimes be a lonely business!). There are also plenty of folx (including me) who support the power of mental imagery and/or keeping dream journals.
Challenge: In the 30 minutes before you go to bed, instead of playing words with friends on your phone, write in a journal by your bed, the things on your mind. What do you want to dream of? Write your intentions for the next day. For example, I sometimes write down what I want to focus on the following day, and I find that I’ve dreamed of solutions to problems in my sleep!
Hopefully these 5 tips will help you get some forward momentum with your writing. Have additional tips? Leave them in the comments or Tweet us! Did you attempt/conquer one of the challenges? Let us know!