Taking care of yourself will help you climb right over that writer’s block: 5 well-practiced tips
This is a guest post by Max Cooper
Writing is not, for most people, a particularly physically demanding task. Of course, there are exceptions, from carpal tunnel syndrome to full quadriplegia, but for the majority the greatest physical challenge is a sore butt from sitting in a cheap office chair bought at a garage sale. This is exactly the problem. The human body is more than just a wet box where we keep our brain; the condition of our bodies affects the state of our minds. And the state of mind of writers when they hit The Wall is not very pretty.
I’ve been there. I am there, more times than I’d like to admit. Since the rules of this blog allow for first-person (and since the information is pertinent to this subject), I’ll indulge: I’ve been writing for publication for over 30 years, full-time for about five. I also have cancer and use a cane to walk. You’d think that would make a sedentary task like writing perfect for someone who cannot stand for more than 20 minutes at a time. Just the opposite: I am acutely aware of my body and its needs; I’ve learned that what it needs – what I need – is activity.
Here, then, are five strategies to overcome The Wall that I’ve developed over the past few years, using physical activity to support writing.
1. Get up and walk away
Or, in my case, limp away (sorry, gimp humor). First of all, physically changing position really does change blood chemistry and refresh the mind. I won’t go into all the details; if you’re a writer, you know how to do the research. In addition to that, getting the heck away from the computer (or typewriter or pad of paper) gets you out of that write-delete-write-edit loop that yields very little in the way of words and a great deal of frustration. Get up, go for a walk, go to the hardware store, or take that stuff in the garage to the dump. Determine a set length of time for the break, and then get back to work. Several short physical breaks are better than one long one, but that really depends upon your mood and circumstances.
2. Fix something
To mis-quote Conrad, “The metaphor, the metaphor…” One of the great frustrations of The Wall is the feeling that we have no control over words. Well, then, try to take some control over a physical object and fix it. Since we never really stop writing (it’s all in our minds, after all), it really doesn’t matter if we’re sitting in front of the computer or not; the writing goes on. The distraction of concentrating on a real-world task can often allow the subconscious to come up with some surprisingly good solutions. It doesn’t even matter if you write it down right away. In fact, allow yourself to mentally re-write, edit and view the idea from various angles while you work. If it’s good enough, you’ll remember later, back at the desk. Earlier this week, for example, I was fixing a trellis for a clematis plant when I came up with an approach to an article I’d been struggling with. As it turns out, what I actually wrote was completely different, but the breakthrough helped. The trellis looks good, too.
3. Eat well
Sorry, but you really do have to eat your vegetables. Just imagine your mother’s voice, “Well, when you win the Pulitzer for fiction, young man, you can eat whatever you want. Until then, finish your broccoli.” A good diet is extremely important in order to maintain your health and therefore your mind. This is particularly true for writers in the middle of a block. Poor diet has a direct, scientifically proven affect on the ability to concentrate. You don’t even have to have a great deal of income to eat well; you just have to pay attention. Enough. I won’t nag.
4. Exercise and take your meds
For obvious reasons, this is an area on which I have to spend a great deal of time and attention, but it doesn’t make it any less important for those without chronic medical problems. Exercise can range from a regimen of walks to home exercise, right up to a gym membership. It is more than just maintenance of health; it also goes to the feeling of taking control. Unlike strategy #2, however, it isn’t taking control of some external object, but rather of your own body. The confidence gained from setting, working towards and reaching a physical fitness goal – no matter how modest – can go a long way to helping break The Wall. The same is true with medications or, if you’re not taking them, vitamins (insert here the usual caution about consulting your physician, etc.). You depend on your writing tools, don’t you? Your computer, your pens, your notebook? Well, your body houses the greatest writing tool you possess.
5. Go out for ice cream
This is shorthand for a two-part rule: “go out” and “ice cream.” Yes, give yourself a treat occasionally. By all means, a little self-imposed behavior modification through reward is a good thing. But the first part is just as important: Do so away from the desk. I know, I know, that knee well under the desk is a perfect place to keep a box of cheese crackers. If you indulge, though, you’ll someday come to your desk and find a pile of pizza boxes, half-eaten burritos and a dozen empty soda cans. In any case, those treats are much better when shared with someone else. Beware the isolation of the desk.
Anyone who has read Golden Age science fiction has come across those short stories and novels about some distant future when people’s brains can be housed in machines. The ideal, according to those writers, was that the human mind would be freed from the limitations of the body. Those stories used to fill me with horror as a young reader, and the idea still does. I like my body, limitations and all. It’s part of me. If I keep my body going, my mind feels better. When I face The Wall, after all, it’s really just in my mind; my body can help me climb over it. Besides, I want to keep my body strong in case I ever meet a certain book reviewer I could name.
About this post’s author:
This post is contributed by Max Cooper on behalf of www.injury-settlement-guide.com. He has been passionately writing since 2008 on various topics such as business and finance, marketing and personal development. When not writing, he likes to walk with his dog at the park to get more inspiration for his next book.
This is a great post and much respect to you for acknowledging your “realness”.
I have often told people the hardest thing about writing is that you may not get feedback with rejections. In the industry, six months with no response is no big thing. You can write a masterpiece (I know this from personal experience 🙂 and only find a few people who recognize your brilliance. I’m being facetious, but you get my point.
For a results-driven person like myself, I need to counter the wishy-washyness of writing with things that make me feel I’ve accomplished something. So I, too, find finite, solid projects to start, finish, complete and take a photo of to prove I have done them. And then I force my loved ones to praise me and tell me how wonderful I am. Hey, have to get it from somewhere…