Breaking the Block

There are so many days when I wake up full of intentions to “make some progress” on the novel or the blog or whatever, but all too often, after my shower and breakfast (and too much procrastinating online), I will open up the project only to find all of my ambition gone.

If I’m lucky, I’ll push through the block, but there are many times when I don’t do much more than just waste a lot of time doing trivial things (like mindlessly checking Facebook or my school emails, even though I just did half an hour earlier), and before I know it, the day is gone and I feel even worse because I didn’t “get anything done.”

Being a writer, it’s easy to feel this pressure to show something for yourself. Writing of any sort– especially writing novels– is a slow, arduous process, and many times, it can be difficult for our peers to take us seriously if it seems like we don’t produce any results:

“So, when can I read the book?”
“How long have you been writing your novel, now? Four– five years?

Our fast-paced, utilitarian society places a premium on results, which has led to a constant pressure to produce. But part of being creative entails periods of rest, where ideas are allowed to germinate and the strata of our subconscious mind can settle. Often, I find that if I try too hard to write, it just makes me freeze up even more. I am beginning to be convinced that simply turning on the creative tap is not something that I can always do at will. However, there are some things that can help free up the flow. It’s all about learning how to get into the right state of mind (no pun intended).


As opposed to the left side…?

Moving on.

The next time you do feel a burst of inspiration, pay attention to what you are doing. It’s likely not when you are consciously trying to write. Personally, I’ve had ideas strike anytime from when I’m watching sporting events (yeah, I’m weird) to when I’m folding laundry. Often, I will realise that I’m zoning out, and not really thinking consciously when this happens.

Other times, if I feel like I just have to make use of my free time to write, but the well of inspiration is dry, I like to use the technique called mindmapping. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and almost always helps me get “unblocked.” Just take a blank piece of printer paper, write the question you’re struggling with in the middle of the page, and surround it with a circle. Then for the next five to ten minutes, just start branching off of that idea with every thought that comes to mind, no matter how seemingly irrelevant. In this way, your subconscious mind can draw relationships between everything bouncing around in there.

Another variation of this exercise is something called freewriting wherein I’ll open up a blank document (or just open a cheap spiral notebook to a blank page) and begin writing a stream of consciousness– basically, every thought that crosses my mind. It often takes the form of “talking to myself,” like this:

Ok, so right now I need to figure out how character X finds out the secret which will lead him to location B. What do I know about the character right now? And what do I know about the character with the secret? In a world like theirs, what are all the ways they could meet, and how many of those have a good potential for conflict?

Get it? Good.

Lastly, instead of staring at my project or a blank document in the vain hope that I will write something– anything, it is often more useful to just go do something else entirely unrelated to writing. I’ll play a video game, cook dinner, read a book, go visit a friend. Incidentally, if I visit the right friend, I can also talk out my problem with her. Just having another listening ear– even if the person is not a writer– can sometimes make a difference if you can just verbalise what’s giving you trouble.

Of course, make sure you don’t take too long of a break from writing, but hopefully, something will shake loose and you’ll be back in the creative flow before you know it.

What techniques or activities do you use when you’re feeling blocked? Are there times when you notice that you are blocked more than others (mornings, stressful real life, vacations)?

6 thoughts on “Breaking the Block”

  1. I’ve discovered a great method of freewriting where you literally write whatever goes through your head, whether it makes sense of not. You don’t worry about full stops or paragraphs or whatever, you just brain splat onto paper (yes, to brain splat is a verb). Sometimes it can come out sounding weirdly poetic, and I’ve used a few things my brain has come up with as elements in stories.

  2. I find that when I’m super stressed out or have a lot going on, it becomes really difficult for me to form words. Which is rather lame, since at those times I usually feel like I really NEED to blog and talk some stuff out but I am often not able to put thoughts together for a few days.
    Then again, I haven’t been writing with any regularity for very long and right now I’m working on writing every day, to see if the routine helps on the days when it’s tougher. We shall see.


  3. Finding little ways to trick ourselves into pleasing ourselves is a must if we choose to do what is not natural. After a little sustained treachery the choice becomes natural for a while.

  4. I feel the same way everyday; I wake up full of ideas and inspiration, I procrastinate writing it until I really have something worth jotting down, and then when I finally feel up to it I stare at the blank page as if I expect it to do something extraordinary. Words fly faster than I can tolerate and for hours I can’t seem to find that original inspiration.
    I learned something while playing Magic:The Gathering–never hesitate.

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