When there is a creative lapse in a writer’s work, I reminded myself, a writer can be very creative in finding ways to escape it.
Gay Talese, A Writer’s Life
I have had many times in my life when I am so excited about a book that I'm working on, but I just can't seem to get through a certain part of it.
I call it getting ultra stuck.
I normally compare writing to blowing your nose. I say you have to blow, blow, and blow until all the gunk is out.
But let's face it, sometimes, that nose is clogged no matter what you do.
Which means I would do my favorite thing to do when I shouldn't been writing...
You guessed it… ANYTHING THAT WASN’T WRITING!
I used to spend endless hours watching marathons of ANTM (America’s Next Top Model), reading books in the same subject area as what I was working on, and overall not finishing the project I should have been completing. (PSST: Those are all no-nos!)
Of course my snarky inner voice would come out eventually, staring back at me in a mirror saying, “Umm, excuse me Gina. I realize you feel like you really need to use a Biore strip and watch Tyra Banks for the next three hours… but you’ve got more pressing work to do.”
I would plug my ears and go LA LA LA LA LA for the night, but it always bit me in the end. I’d wake up the next morning and remember, “Oh… right… I’m still stuck.”
What am I getting at with my blackhead removal and MTV binge watching story?
Just as the quote from the ever genius Gay Talese says at the top of this page, we get damn creative at getting out of writing when we are in a lapse.
But here’s what I’ve learned over time: There are a number of creative exercises you can take that pull you away from the physical act of writing, but still help you overcome your block, and eventually land you back in a seat, scribbling wildly away.
Here are nine exercises I use regularly to help me get my writing lapse over with:
1) Read “brain candy” – Stop researching and stop reading author’s work that is in the same subject area as you.
Pick up a fantastically fun (and silly) pun-titled mystery novel (If Onions Could Spring Leeks, for example… Really. That’s the title), a celebrity autobiography (like Amy Poehler’s Yes Please), or a fiction thriller like Gone Girl.
Keep your mind moving, but let it have fun. Taking it away from the subject matter at hand, while still keeping it engaged in a stimulating activity, can help you when it’s time to come back to the project and complete it.
Also, the key here is READ brain candy. Not WATCH brain candy.
Watching television will not keep your mind engaged the same way reading will. I especially recommend reading fiction. Here’s a study on how great reading fiction can be for your brain.
2) Go for a run – Personally, I hate running. But recently, when I was in a cardiologist’s office, having a “stress test” done, I realized that during the running portion I was the least stressed I’d been in a long time.
Similarly to the “brain candy,” running keeps your mind active, but focused inward on your body, rather than on outside stimuli.
Get to the YMCA, swim laps in your pool, or just get outside and go for a walk around the block. But keep your mind on your body and your body on your mind.
Listen to ocean waves as you walk and try to drown out the world around you. Focus on your heartbeat or your breathing and try to push past exercise walls you’re normally unable to.
3) Meditation – Do you see a pattern yet? (Hint: Each one is a slight iteration of the last.)
When you exercised, it was all about focusing on your body during a more “stressed” situation, now it’s about clearing your mind in a calm situation.
Ever watch that episode of Boy Meets World where Eric, a high school senior, convinces all of his classmates to stop studying for finals and take a night to do something fun?
They all ace the final (except Eric, because he hadn’t been studying) because after working on something for such a long period of time, all their brain needed was a break to re-coop and come back with a vengeance.
Taking 20 minutes to calmly release the project you’re working on from your mind might just help you land to a new conclusion after the 20 minutes are up.
4) Weed your garden – In this exercise, tend to the Earth instead of your body, because it will still impact your brain!
My favorite way to relax and clear my mind is to head down to my garden, throw in a new grouping of compost, water, weed, and harvest.
Afterwards, I’m always juiced up with energy from pouring some sweat into a beautiful space, and tend to sit in the space afterwards and write about my time spent in there.
Often, when you write about something else, it may spark ideas for your original project.
Plus who doesn’t love getting their hands a little dirty for Mother nature’s sake, especially if it’ll help you get unstuck?
5) Paint a bowl of fruit – Or a car, or a tree, or your first born child. Or crochet, or make a handmade book, or play guitar. Do anything that’s hands on and in another creative outlet.
In the garden, you concentrated quietly on something outside of yourself. Here, you’re doing the same, but in a creative space.
I find that sometimes, when I’m stuck, being creative in a new space will end up being influenced by the project I was stuck in, and help me think about it in a new way.
Or, conversely, you may find that expressing yourself in a different creative space can be a bit like screaming into a pillow.
It lets you release stress in a new way and get your mind thinking about a different kind of creative work.
6) Collage a visual/ dream board – Focusing your mind on goals that you’d like to attain because of the type of project you’re working on, can get you motivated in another new way.
For instance, if you’re trying to tackle sales copy for your offering, create a board around what you’d like to attain from having a successful business.
If you’re writing a book, pick out photos and phrases that go along with the type of book you’re writing and mash them together on a page.
Changing your thinking from words to images may help you change the way you’re thinking about the project as well.
7) Cook a difficult recipe – This is similar to the exercise component and the collage component.
Like the exercise, you want to try and push yourself in a different area than what you’re currently working on. Like creating the collage, you want to use your brain in a way that isn’t using words in the way you are using them for your project.
You’ll be focusing on other senses – taste, sight, and smell – to create a meal for yourself, rather than trying to expand on a sentence or finish up some language. This mental break could help you get to a better place in your work.
8) Journal – Ok, I couldn’t only offer up non-writing exercises.
Sometimes, when we don’t want to write, we just don’t want to write about what we have to be writing about. So, in those instances, journaling is a fantastic use of your time.
I always tell my book coaching and creative writing coaching clients to write every day, no matter what.
But those days don’t have to be filled with writing about their project – in fact, they shouldn’t.
You’ll improve your writing exponentially if you write about your day as well.
Why? Because taking your thoughts about your day and writing about them usually doesn’t end up sounding very elegant at first, but it’s stepping away from the typical expository writing you’re used to.
As you write more about your day, you’ll start to think about your day differently as it’s occurring, and create new vocabulary around it. This will impact your professional/ creative writing as well then.
9) Write about it as a poem – If you’re writing a fiction book, start writing a poem. If you’re writing poetry, start writing short stories. If you’re writing recipes, start to write memoir stories. If you’re writing sales copy, write a poem. Really.
Using a different style of writing than what the project entails could help you think about the language you’re using in a new way, while also creating sentences and phrases you could use for your actual project.
The most important thing to remember, no matter what is that even if you try, and enjoy, each of these exercises, you still have to come back to writing.
So make sure that after you've engaged in one of these exercise, you sit back and down, and do the work!
Having trouble writing even after trying these out? Not sure how to organize the thoughts that do come out after an exercise? Sign-up for a Discovery Session with me and let's get you to work!