This is an excerpt from the sixth edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.
Before flying out of Perth for my two-week holiday, I was definitely channeling Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen: I was up to my neck in it, standing on tippy-toes to keep from going under. Inspiration for writing was hard to come by and Dan, my Humphrey Bogart, was fast asleep in his London berth so no use at all.
A complete break from work was exactly what I needed to get the creative juices flowing again. And it worked.
But a holiday is a luxury most of us can only afford once or twice a year. I’ve been thinking of ways to get over the crippling feeling of writer’s block when you can’t go on safari and hang out with lions, elephants, and giraffes for a couple of weeks.
Here are my 7 top tips.
Long hours, fatigue or a singular focus definitely puts a damper on my ability to spin a yarn. It’s counterintuitive, but pushing back from the desk often helps light a spark when I’m feeling flat. It’s not new advice, but I definitely benefit from leaving the office and resting my noggin for at least an hour. I eat lunch, read the news and avoid any work-related tasks. I’m not one for taking a siesta, but some people swear by a siesta after lunch – even the lions.
There’s nothing like an assignment (or a deadline) to force you out of a slump and writing prompts are a super way to prime your creativity pump. They’re a great way to start the day and exorcise any procrastination tendencies you might have. I love this list of writing prompts from The New York Times because each one poses a question (which, handily, leads to my next tip).
Whenever I’m having a hard time getting started with a writing project, I imagine having a conversation with a real person in my intended audience. I think about the perfect question that person could ask me on the topic I want to write about. I write that question at the top of the page – and then I answer it for them. It’s a terrific technique for overcoming the blank page syndrome.
When I was a computer programmer, I often solved the gnarliest problems while I was focused on something else entirely. It was common for the solution to arrive while I was standing under the flow of warm water in my daily shower. Long showers are a thing of the past, but writing inspiration often comes while I’m walking the dogs. I turn off the podcasts to completely relax my brain and trudge around the familiar path of a local park. I still take my phone, though, to capture those sparks of creativity on a voice memo.
I find writing great headlines and subject lines super challenging. It’s a coveted talent and taken so seriously by journalists the skill has its own award. Fortunately, there are some tools available to help.
The Kickass Headline Generator is a nifty tool to bend your mind in ways you hadn’t considered. I always consult CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer and appreciate their reliable advice. They also do a good job with the Email Subject Line Tester and the Social Message Optimizer. Make sure to check out the recommended resources. The datagraphics and infographics are handy.
Focus your brain on a different kind of challenge for a bit. One of my favourite things to do during my lunchbreak is to work on a puzzle. I have the Scrabble app on my tablet and it can be used online or offline. The puzzle I like the best is Spelling Bee, which has become something of an obsession. You make as many words as possible out of seven letters (they change every day) and you’re assigned a level of expertise as you bank up the words. I aim for Genius but some days I only hit Amazing. An old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle also relaxes my writing brain while I nut out a different sort of problem.
I was an agile marketing sceptic until Andrea Fryrear appeared on the Marketing Breakout podcast. Her beginner’s tip of giving your complete focus to only two tasks a day has helped immensely. I write my tasks down and don’t move to another thing until the first one is done. It’s a good way to eliminate WAB (work avoidance behaviour) and provides a useful kick up the backside if I’m feeling scattered.
After a two-week change of scenery, fresh air, lots of exercise, great food, good wine and time with extended family, everything has improved on the creativity front for me. (That’s me at Lisbon Falls in Mpumalanga with my whole being above water again.)
I’ve also committed to restarting morning meditation now that winter is over and the house isn’t so frigid. I find it’s a good way to insulate myself from the bone-crushing hyenas of creativity – and far more satisfying than trying to wordsmith those pesky leeches of writer’s block into something readable.
I’ve been using the guided meditations from Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One by Joe Dispenza. Dan turned me on to Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax. Dr Charlotte Keating, a psychologist with a PhD in neuroscience, recommended free meditation apps like Smiling Mind or Headspace at a recent Murdoch University open day I attended with my son.
Dan and I would love to hear what you do to keep in a creative or productive frame of mind. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
6 November 2019
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