Writer’s block is a common affliction amongst writers of all levels of experience. I’d happily bet good money on a similar ‘block’ effect happening to creatives of all sorts: musicians, poets, painters, graphic designers and filmmakers. It’s like accidentally stepping into a mud pool and getting stuck in mud halfway up your leg. Budging out of that mud is surprisingly difficult.
When I’m stuck creatively, there are a few things that help me get unstuck again.
First, I follow the energy. This sounds more new agey than it is. I have several creative projects and ideas on the boil at any given time, and sometimes I am simply not in the mood for my main work-in-progress (WIP). Perhaps I have been overdoing it, or I’m too close to the content, or maybe I’m even a little burned out.
So I do something else that interests me more than my WIP. Perhaps, instead of working on my non fiction, I have an idea for a short story I’d like to try. Or maybe I want to write music instead. A few weeks ago, I simply wasn’t in the mood for blogging, so I wrote a poem about a snail. To my utter amazement, it was enthusiastically embraced by online readers. And I had so much fun writing it.
I followed the energy.
Second, I take an intentional break. It is widely accepted that incubation is a crucial part of the creative process, that phase of pondering and simmering before we take the next step. That non-writing writing time is still productive. Sometimes I take a break because I am so familiar with my WIP I can no longer see it. I put it aside for a month, maybe longer, so I can return to it with fresh eyes.
There’s another reason I take deliberate breaks, and it’s called self-care. Writing what I write—issues of childlessness, singledom, illness and faith—can be taxing. I love what I write about, and I’m passionate about these topics, so I’m going to continue to write about them; but it takes a toll.
Friends have previously said to me, ‘It must be so cathartic to write about those problems.’ Not really. Well, OK, sometimes it is, but writing about problems and grief and crises of faith can also bring me down. That’s the other side of the writing coin.
Self-care and time away from writing is as crucial as any of the actual writing I do.
Third, I get stuck when I’m empty. If I have been working on my WIP for a long time, or giving my energy elsewhere, I can feel tapped out. If I sit down to write and draw a big ol’ blank, it’s probably time for a refill. That’s when I go and do things that recharge my creative batteries: reading, watching musicals, retreating into nature, op shopping, having quality introvert time.
As author Allen Arnold says, ‘You’re not late or behind on the project that isn’t coming together. It will be born when it’s fully ready. Perhaps you need to live more first.’*
If we’re stuck in a proverbial swamp, perhaps we’ve been doing too much writing and not enough living. Put the laptop away for a bit and go live some more. When your well of life experience is full, you’ll sense the overflow, and you won’t be able to help but get back to that writing.
And we can always ask God, the ultimate creator, for his ideas too.
Do you ever get stuck with your creativity? What tricks help you get unstuck? What things feed and fuel your creativity? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.