To understand the scourge we call "writer's block," consider constipation.
What, Roger? Another shit reference?
What can I say? I write from the gut, and there's a lot of poop in there. Besides, the metaphor is apt. What most people call "writers' block" is called by professional writers "another day." Regardless of what you call it, it's a constipation of the creative consciousness. Like digestive constipation, it's frustrating, painful, and ultimately paralyzing. Left untreated long enough, it can be annihilating.
The good news is, writer's block can and should be treated as any other form of constipation. Here are the simple steps.
- Diagnosis: How do you know that writer's constipation is what you have? Check the symptoms. In the case of writer's block, I'm not talking about sitting down in front of the screen (or paper) and not knowing what to write. That's what we call "writing." What I'm talking about is forgetting what writing is. If you're a little stuck, push. If you're shut down, read on.
- Fiber: Taking a laxative when you're stuffed up is usually bad news. It's tremendous overcompensation, like trying to cut the daisies with a "daisy cutter" (an immensely powerful aerial bomb that actually ignites the atmosphere). Instead of drugs, doctors advise high-fiber foods, and the same applies to writer's block. This means reading to supply your brain with roughage. But don't read exactly what you're trying to write, e.g. reading about collaboration software because you're writing a presentation on collaboration software. That's not brain fiber, that's research, and will only aggravate your blockage. Instead, pick the general genre to read up on. If your piece is on collaboration software, read about Charles Babbage, the 19th-century inventor of machine computing. This will stimulate your unconscious naturally and gently, like a bowl of oatmeal for the brain.
- Water: Ingesting large amounts of fiber without drinking a lot of water is an express ticket on the colon express to Cramp City. Similarly, you've got to feed your brain plenty of the universal solvent for that fiber to absorb, and that means:
- Rest. Get at least 7 hours of sleep; maybe throw in a nap.
- Diversion. Get your mind off your project.
- Fun. Do something relatively mindless that compels you to be present. Mindfulness is all the rage, and there are countless ways to be in the moment: mediation, breathing exercises, yoga, prayer. Personally, I like Uno.
- Time: Give it 24 hours (in an extreme case, 48 hours). You may feel you're wasting time, but trust me: if you're any kind of writer (and you must be some kind of writer), your unconscious is combining that fiber and fluid in magical ways.
- Nature: I'm no outdoorsman (unless you count venturing down the driveway to get the mail), but I've come to recognize that thousands of years of evolution has created a bond between our unconscious and the natural environment that we've only begun to understand. You don't have to understand it to use it. Go outside and look at trees. You'll be amazed.
One last note: don't expect an epiphany. Your grandma didn't down a bowl of bran and the next day shout "Gangway!" and run for the potty with a full load of ordnance. She experienced gradually increasing relief until, sooner than she expected, things were back to normal. And so it will be with you: an idea here or there, a wave of inspiration, and before you know it the ideas will course swiftly through your system and land ploppingly in the water of your mind.
I take a light tone about this stuff precisely because it is so serious. A recent episode of writer's block had me on the brink of depression, and I don't want that to happen to you. So remember, you're not out of ideas. Your creative plumbing is just a bit backed up.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes in the comments below.