Perhaps the only time that you want to be running red lights is when they come up during your writing. When you are racing along the Autobahn and words and thoughts are flowing out of your mind faster than you can type, the last thing you want to do is take the next exit. Unfortunately, it seems as if the dreaded writer’s block is a more ominous and vicious predator than a shark in crimson waters. Thankfully, there are some strategies and weapons to wage war against the beast of writer’s block.
Ready, Set, Go!
Grab a timer, any device with a timer, or the clock on your wall. Set it for 30 seconds and WITHOUT stopping for a second, let your stream of consciousness flow and type out everything you are thinking in relation to the article or essay you are trying to write. This is a great way to break free from that writer’s block choke-hold.
Throw out simple, one or two key words or a concise statement for which you are trying to convey and build a paragraph around. After that, you may ‘dress it up’ and develop the thought a little more. Just like a chef gathers his raw ingredients before putting together the delicious dish, you are simple throwing out the main ingredients for which you will come back and tidy things up. Blocks typically happen to writers when we try and eat the whole elephant rather than one little piece at a time.
Take a short break and do something completely random and unrelated to what you are trying to write about. Shelley Carson, Phd, in her book Your Creative Brain describes the human process of creativity and specifically a couple of stages she refers to as Incubation and then Insight. You have gathered and absorbed all the information that you are able to and wrestled with a particular problem from every angle. Once you have done that you need to step aside, put it on the back burner, and in a sense, let your brain marinate it. Do some push-ups perhaps, or go feed your fish, maybe even throw some clothes in the washing machine. Then come back to it- generally with a new insight and new momentum on your writing. Interestingly, Dr. Carson explains that in the human learning process, there is both a deliberate and spontaneous process- utilizing different portions of the brain. Incubation, taking a break when hitting a writing block sends a problem to the rear storage areas of the brain, where your executive centre can then manipulate ideas and information in your prefrontal lobes to come up with a new insight and overcome your block.
Find Your Sweet Spot
Identify your high energy times and your low energy times. Kathryn E. Peterson references a couple of interesting theories in her book, Write:10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period; Researcher on circadian rhythms, Dr. Robert Thayer posits that our peak times for motivation and concentration happens when we get a surge of “calm-energy.” For introverts, Thayer’s studies find that this tends to happen earlier in the day, while extroverts experience this later in the day. Endocrinologist and Ayurvedic physician Dr. Deepak Chopra suggests that we all have three types of energy through which our peak energy states can be explained through: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each also correlating with a body type. Chopra explains that people who are predominantly Vata, prefer spicy foods and tend to be thin (ectomorph) experience their peak energy from 2pm to 6pm and 2am to 6am. People ruled by Pitta prefer extremely hot or extremely cold foods, tend to be muscular (mesomorph), and are most energized from 10am to 2pm and 10pm to 2am. Dominantly Kapha individuals prefer heavier foods, tend to have a solid build (endomorph) and experience their peak energy from 6am to 10am and 6pm to 10pm. While these theories may certainly be debated and critiqued, they do serve to provide food for thought in assessing our own “peak energy” times. Whether you are indeed an early bird or a night owl, it is key to schedule your writing times around these prime states. Your block may be very much a result of trying to work in a low energy period of the day.
Phone a Friend
When hitting a road block in your writing, it is always helpful to talk through what you have already written with someone else. Having to think through and verbalize your thoughts activate different portions of your brain, potentially leading to new insights. Furthermore, the person you are talking to may give you another angle and provide the spark that causes you press through the block.
Be Good to Your Brain
The two main energy sources for your brain are oxygen and glucose. The red light on your writing may be a result of these being depleted. Water and exercise are your best friends for oxygen- you should be consistently having about 7 glasses of water each day and striving for about 20 minutes of exercise. Doing both of these will increase the level of oxygen intake your body is capable of. Your brain will use up to 20% of your body’s intake. In terms of glucose intake, carbohydrates will either be your best friend or your worst enemy- most people will be familiar with the high and low glycemic index of carbohydrates which determines how quickly sugars are released into the bloodstream. You want to make friends with the low glycemic foods to provide you with a sustained release of sugars for your brain. A better brain will mean fewer blocks!