It doesn’t matter what our word count per day, we all hit creative roadblocks sometimes.
But you know what?
You can be more creative.
And you can write more.
Write whatever comes to mind for 5 minutes
This is a form of freewriting, one of my favourite things to do (and what I do when writing first drafts of blog posts, novels, creative nonfiction and poetry).
It’s also nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
Set a timer on your phone, your kitchen timer, Amazon Echo, whatever, then do nothing but write until that timer goes off.
I always had issues with this at university, no matter how many times the task was set.
It wasn’t until near the end of my MA that I used my freewriting time to write anything other than how much I hate freewriting and didn’t know what to write about. And hey, even if that’s what you write about, you’re still training your brain to tap into your subconscious and your conscious mind to trust your subconscious. It’s great practise whatever comes out of it.
If you really struggle, think about it as a form of diary writing, and write something autobiographical. Diary writing is the ultimate form of freewriting, as so few of us filter before we put stuff down on the page.
Also please, please don’t delete what you write during these sessions. Save them, then go back to them in a few week’s time. You never know what little gems—even if it’s just a sentence or two—you might find.
Ever played that game where someone says a word and you have to say the next word that comes into your head? It used to be one of the most popular games on a lot of forums because it’s simple and easy, but the responses we give say a lot about us—that’s why psychologists and counsellors use it too.
Start with a word—for instance, ‘writing’—then write the first thing that comes into your head based on that word. Then one based on that word. Then that word. Etc. Keep going either until you run out of steam, or for a set period of time (five minutes should be enough).
When you’re done, go back through the words and highlight any that are interesting or that could trigger something in your writing.
List as many rhymes as you can for a word
Start with a word—such as ‘writing’—then list as many words as you can that rhyme with it. When you run out of rhymes, move on to half-rhymes.
You can do this as a time-based exercise, or go until you run out of steam, but personally I think it works better time-based.
Once you’ve finished, look through the rhymes. Is there a running theme? The basis for a poem or some flash fiction?
Do a writing prompt
Writing prompts exist for a reason. Whether you’re in the midst of a work in progress and need to shake things up, or you want to start a new idea, a writing prompt can be a great place to start.
There are lots of books available, some of my favourites being The Writer’s Block and Sarah Hindmarsh’s 1001 Writing Prompts for Generating Ideas. There are also free writing prompts out there if you look them up online, or you can create your own by picking an object/place/person and writing about them.
Write somewhere new
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of changing up where you write/edit regularly.
Being somewhere new means that you see things differently. How we read is affected by our state of mind, and one of the things that affects our state of mind is where we are. If we regularly write at home, we’re warm and comfortable. This isn’t ideal if writing thrillers. While I’m not suggesting you write on the edge of a cliff or on a rollercoaster, go somewhere your mind isn’t used to and get it outside of its comfort zone. This will help you to empathise more with your characters, and this will come through in your writing.
Go for a walk
Steve Jobs was a big fan of walking meetings, because they can offer a great sense of perspective—and exercise!
When struggling for words, spending some time with nature can be both relaxing and inspirational. I used to love taking our dog for a walk when I was stressed out. Not only did seeing him bouncing around in the local park make me smile, but being around someone so happy made me happy.
Visit a museum or art gallery
Other forms of art can be a great source of inspiration. Seeing how other artists interpret themes from tragedy to romance and everything in between (or a combination of the two), can give you a new way of approaching what you’re working on.
Local galleries frequently have new exhibitions on, so keep an eye out. Most only last a few weeks, sometimes even days, so stay on top of what your local gallery is up to by checking their website or social media regularly, or signing up to their mailing list.
Go to a poetry reading/storytelling event
Writers learn from other writers. That’s why the best writers read, and why writers teach other writers.
Going to a poetry reading or storytelling event gives you the chance to see how other writers and performers show off their work to others. If you’re into storytelling, you may discover a new story that you can adapt (a key part of the storytelling world, but ask permission first). If you’re a poet, a word, phrase, image, or way of performing may trigger a whole new poem or series of poems within you.
Literary events are also great for networking, and you’re likely to see the same people regularly. Not to mention they’re great fun! (Most of the time. You’ll always go to the odd one that sucks.)
Read something outside of your comfort zone and take your time on it
When we write in a particular genre it can be easy to get stuck in a reading rut and only read the things that fit into our comfort zones. Whilst this is a great way to find out what does and doesn’t work for your target audience, sometimes it can become samey.
Reading outside of your comfort zone—for instance, a romance writer reading crime—allows you to see things—and possibly learn to approach them—in a different way.
For instance, a romantic scene written in a romance novel will be very different to one in a crime novel. As a romance writer, you could learn more about building suspense from a crime novel, while a crime novel could learn more about romance from reading romance. (I love crime, but the romance/sex scenes in the majority of them are terrible and cringeworthy. Editors, please teach your writers how to be romantic. I want to care about the characters and have them solve the murder, not want to murder them for having robot-like sex.)
Take a writing class
Despite having a BA and an MA in Creative Writing, I still go to writing classes when I have time and money.
Because there’s always more to learn.
There will always be writers out there that are better than you.
Once you accept that, you can learn from them.Once you accept that there will always be better writers than you, you can learn from them. Click To Tweet
Knowing that there’s always more to learn is part of why I love writing. There are so many different approaches to it. The more approaches you discover, the more likely you are to find one that works for you. Even if you’ve already found on that works for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a better one, though.
If you live in the middle of nowhere, don’t worry, as there are still plenty of online classes and resources (such as this blog, and my free How to Defeat Writer’s Block Once and For All course) available to you.
Break out of your comfort zone
Pretty much every book on productivity and overcoming fear will tell you this. The longer you stay sat in your comfort zone, the less you’ll achieve.The longer you stay sat in your comfort zone, the less you'll achieve. Click To Tweet
When things become familiar to us, we stop seeing things differently. We stop feeling things differently. We become numb.
Start small—take a slightly different route to work, or go somewhere new for lunch. Build yourself up to having different morning routines, visiting new places, and writing something new. It makes a huge difference. I promise.
Create a routine
When you’re struggling to write and constantly waiting for inspiration to write, it’s unlikely to happen.
Like it or not, sometimes you just have to write.
You can’t always write when you’re ‘in the mood’ or you’ve been struck by the creativity stick.
Creativity is a muscle, and it doesn’t get better without exercise.
Even when you’ve exercised it, if you stop exercising, it starts to wither away again.
Feed it, exercise it, and stick to your routine.
Even if you’re shaking things up by writing somewhere new or within a different medium, make sure you get those words on the page.
The more things you do at once, the longer it will take you to complete a task. Not only that, but the harder it will be.
When your focus is split, so is your brain.
Think of it as pieces of a jigsaw—the image is only complete when all of the pieces are in place. When there are pieces missing, you don’t see the full picture.
If you work on multiple jigsaws at the same time, you risk pieces getting muddled together and it’ll take you forever to complete just one, let alone all of them. Focus on them individually and it will be a lot easier to see picture(s) as a whole.
Over to You
What kick-starts your creativity when you’re stuck in a rut? Share your wisdom in the comments below and help other writers get out of the same funk that you were in!