The poet Charles Bukowski said ”writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”. So here I am, overcoming my struggle to write my blog by writing about struggling to write my blog – or perhaps about becoming unstuck in general.
One of my favourite starting points is to pick a subject and see what other people have to say about it. Sometimes the internet throws up something really exciting; often it’s just intensely irritating. Either way, if I get engaged enough I end up with something to write about.
My search for inspiration today led to an article that started ”I recently did an internet search for ‘Getting Unstuck’ to see what would come up’‘. As that’s exactly what I’d just done, I felt encouraged. The article wasn’t what I was looking for as it was focussed on finding direction in life following divorce and financial devastation. In fact, most of the articles seemed to be about unsticking your whole life rather than just finding ways of unbunging a temporary blockage.
‘Weed the relationship garden’ for example was not particularly relevant (and slightly twee for my taste), and the suggestion of having a coffee mug bearing the slogan ‘believe in yourself’ made me slightly queasy (I’ve never been an affirmations sort of guy). Amongst all this however were some useful techniques, which I managed to supplement with a more specific search for ‘overcoming writers’ block’.
So here goes, here’s my take on getting unstuck:
- START – start doing something, anything (even if it’s only trawling the internet looking for inspiration). This works on the basis that it’s far harder to get going from a stationary position than once you’ve got a bit of momentum. Don’t worry about the quality, you can sort that out later. Maya Angelou for example says: ”what I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come’”
- STOP – at the risk of sounding contradictory, there comes a time when you have to admit that what you’re doing just isn’t working. I can be embarrassingly slow on the uptake, but eventually even I realise that staring at a blank computer screen isn’t going to get my blog written
- REFLECT – while being blocked might be a mood thing (or indeed just laziness), there are times when I find it’s an indication that something important’s wrong or missing. I often get halfway through something and then hit a wall. Ray Bradbury suggests: ”Ok. You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying “I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for’”
- CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT – throw open the windows and let some air in. Put on some music – experiment with something upbeat or something more calming (for me it has to be instrumental as I can’t write to music with words)
- CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT – go somewhere different. When working at home, I’m usually in my office, but occasionally I move to the kitchen table or sprawl across the sitting room carpet. Many people find going to a café works (even as an introvert, having people around can sometimes be welcome – as long as I don’t have to talk to them!)
- CHANGE WHAT YOU’RE DOING – take a break. Get a coffee. Read. Play with Lego. Go for a walk. Go for a swim (one of the articles I found swore by the unsticking properties of being in water)
- CREATE A ROUTINE – contradiction time again! Instead of constantly chopping and changing, create a set of conditions that your brain associates with productivity. Think about when you’ve been at your most productive (and unstuck), and recreate as best as you can the environment and behaviours that helped
Here’s a list of the articles that kick-started me this morning:
- 16 ways to get unstuck – Tara Sophia Mohr
- How to overcome writers’ block – 14 tricks that work – Jeff Goins
- 13 famous writers on overcoming writers’ block – Emily Temple