Guest Post by Angie Lofthouse
Angie Lofthouse went to college with every intention of becoming a particle physicist, but through a series of misadventures, found herself studying Shakespeare instead. After college, she combined her love of science and her love of words into a science fiction writing career.
She has published numerous short stories in online and print magazines and anthologies, as well as two sci-fi adventure novels, Defenders of the Covenant and The Ransomed Returning. Her latest novel, The Glory of the Stars, will be out in November, along with a novella, “Werewolves of California,” in an upcoming anthology.
She lives in a little canyon in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains with her family of writers, artists, singers, composers, illustrators, and musicians.
When I sat down to write this article, I couldn’t get out a word. I couldn’t even think of a topic. I couldn’t work on my steampunk fantasy WIP, nor could I flesh out ideas for a Christmas story that needs writing. Instead, I sat grinding my teeth, getting more and more agitated, anxious, and depressed. It was time for some emergency first aid.
Maybe you’ve experienced this situation or something like it before? I think we all have. Here are some tips and tricks that I use to get past it. Apply one or more as needed. (Note: these tips may not work for you the way they do for me, but I hope you’ll find something useful here for the next time writing makes you feel like you’re stuck in quicksand.)
First, address the emotions.
For me, writer’s block is not too different from a typical anxiety attack. Writing does that to me quite a lot. When I take a step back to see why I’m stuck, I often find fear at the heart of it, so many of the same coping techniques I use for anxiety work for writer’s block as well. Take a look at the emotions powering your writer’s block and do what you can to turn those around. Pray. Meditate. I like kundalini meditations. Mantras for creativity or anxiety (like this one or this one) can be very useful. Use emotional release, or use some other relaxation technique. Journal about your feeling. Make a list of things that bring you joy. Count your blessings. Do something just for fun.
Take care of your physical needs.
Are you hungry, tired, thirsty, in pain, or do you have some other physical need that needs to be met? Go for a walk or get some other form of exercise. Eat a healthy snack or have a meal, but make sure you’re actually hungry. Don’t eat out of boredom or stress. Stay hydrated, preferably with water. Take any necessary medications or vitamin supplements. Take a nap if that works for you. (I am a huge fan of naps!) Or if it’s late, just go to bed and worry about the story in the morning. Getting enough sleep isn’t a waste of time. It’s essential. Get outside for some fresh air. Walk barefoot in the grass. Enjoy the beauty of nature. Breathe deeply.
Try some other creative outlet.
Make sure that whatever other outlet you try doesn’t also cause you stress. Be creative just for fun. Sing a song at the top of your lungs. Play an instrument. Color, draw, or paint. Dance. Paint your nails. Redecorate a room.
Or, you can consume creativity from others. Read a good book. Listen to your favorite music. Read poetry. Watch a movie or a TV show. Go to an art museum, or just look at art online. I often find it energizing and motivating to enjoy what other artists have created.
Yes, I’m giving daydreaming its very own paragraph. This is one of the single most powerful tools I have against writer’s block. Daydream about your characters in scenarios that aren’t in your story. Daydream about wildly different directions you could take the story. Daydream about some other story and characters entirely. Daydream about the goals you want to achieve. Daydream about your most audacious and unreachable dreams. Daydream the impossible into reality. Most importantly, though, daydream just for fun!
Create a vision board.
I’ve recently begun making vision boards to keep me excited about my writing projects. Find images online or in magazines that represent your characters, settings, plot, and themes. (Or draw your own!) Then hang it up where you usually write, so you can see it often. I even made my vision boards the wallpaper on my phone. If you already have a vision board and are still stuck, try adding to it. What are the ideas that first got you excited about the story? Is there something you could add to the board to represent that visually?
The Don’ts. (These are almost as important as the dos.)
Don’t think about your story.
Don’t think about the story at all while you take care of emotional and physical needs. Give yourself a break. If you are daydreaming or creating a vision board, you can think about it, but don’t think about the plot problem that has you stuck or whatever it is about the story that is causing you stress. Focus on the joy and the fun. Give your writer brain a rest.
Don’t turn to addictive substances or practices.
When you’re mired in despair over writer’s block, it can be easy to go for these things that numb you or make you momentarily happy. You know what those things are. Don’t go there. Don’t drink. Don’t use drugs. Don’t gamble. Don’t look at pornography. Don’t turn to video games or social media or whatever else that might become a problem. Don’t go for the chocolate. I’m not trying to make light of these things. I know how serious they are. If we develop addictions to get us through when writer’s block comes, we will ruin all our hopes and dreams. If you do have a problem with an addiction, get help! Go to twelve step meetings. See a therapist. Do not let addiction rule your life.
You can get through this. Chances are you have in the past, and you’ll get through it now. It may last only a few hours or a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. It doesn’t mean you have to give up writing forever or that you’re no good at it or that you should never have tried to write anything in the first place. Don’t ever listen to the voices that tell you that! Writer’s block means that you are perfectly normal and need to step back for a few minutes, hours, or days until you are ready to work again.