Cherryl Chow is a writer who specializes in health, fitness, lifestyle topics, and Japanese cultural issues. She is the co-author of “Hypoglycemia for Dummies” and “The Encyclopedia of Hepatitis C and Other Liver Diseases.” Cherryl has translated numerous books from Japanese to English and is currently working on a YA sci-fi novel with her husband. Click here to get a free copy of “The Writer’s Flexible Morning Ritual.”
You’re cognitively constipated.
You want to write, but you’re all dried up.
You want to write, but the words don’t come.
You want to write, but you’re utterly blocked.
Writer’s block can occur because you let self-criticism obstruct the easy flow of thoughts from your brain to your writing fingers. It’s akin to hardening of the arteries.
I’ve been there too. I should get an award for trying all sorts of methods, from the ridiculous to the sublime, to stimulate creativity, none of which worked. Writing prompts only underscored my inadequacies; free writing meant I freely wrote endless loops of inanities. Physical exercise invigorated me but didn’t translate into an improved flow of ideas. Alcohol had the opposite effect: it put me to sleep. And therapy merely enabled my therapist to pay off her mortgage. I’m sure all of them did me some good, but at the end of the day, I still couldn’t write.
Ultimately, I got my creative juices pumping by trying out a collage of activities that were fun and frivolous.
They helped me generate ideas (tons of them) that I could toss around and play with, enough that I could have the luxury of using only the best. These activities also loosened me up. They silenced the rational, analytical side of me that shredded anything I tried to write. They effectively scraped off the gunk of self-criticism and allowed creativity to once again flow through my veins.
7 Playful Techniques to Shatter Your Writer’s Block
Without further ado, let’s review seven techniques that will refresh, rejuvenate, and ignite your brain. You’re free to modify, mix, and match to suit your needs. I only ask that you give yourself the freedom to play, no matter where, when, or how the spirit moves you.
1. Get a brain transplant
I don’t mean that literally. Just pretend you’re one of the characters from your short story or novel. Or, pick a character from a movie or a book other than your own. You’re going to see things through that character’s eyes. I put myself in the skin of Torin, a teenage cyborg boy from a dystopian future, to get to know him better.
You can start by scrutinizing everything at home, but I urge you to go out if you have the time. In my case, I try to see, hear, and touch everything from Torin’s point of view.
For variation, you can have your character become your imaginary friend du jour and have a (silent) running conversation as you point things out to your friend.
2. Confess your sins
For this, it’s best if you can go somewhere with trees. A forest would be ideal. When you arrive, smell the air, and feel its essence. In Japan, immersing yourself in woodlands is called forest bathing (Shinrin Yoku). It’s a venerated, self-restorative practice. It’ll clear your mind and open it up to fresh ideas.
Now, let your character lead you to a tree, and place his hands on its trunk. When he feels ready, have him confess his deepest, darkest secret to the tree. Let him throw himself on the knotty mercy of bark. Record the confession, or write it down.
Why talk to a tree? It’s another way to mute that critical voice. Besides, trees don’t judge; and there’s something calming about them.
If this is all too “woo,” just interview your character, no props required. But that’s not nearly as fun or as effective.
3. Become a shameless snoop
Go to a public place where you can eavesdrop on people unobserved. Take notes. Depending on circumstances, you may struggle to listen in on just one conversation. In that case, write down snippets of whatever you hear from different groups of people and stitch them together. Then use what you’ve heard as a springboard to write whatever you fancy. Maybe a love story, an alien abduction, or the next scene in your novel.
4. Take an aural Rorschach
Find a song in a foreign language that you are totally unfamiliar with. Download it, or borrow a CD from the library. Sit somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Scribble down what the words sound like to you. Free-associate. Turn the result into a story or a poem. To illustrate, here’s an excerpt of a poem I came up with:
Plight of the Constant Piglet
Hey, Jimmie! Speak piglet, do you?
No, just a little German, Mein Kampf.
I hate to be gauche but do you realize that your
Companion is a piglet with a papier toupee?
Hey, what do you take me for, an idiot savant?
Utter nonsense, as you can tell. And that’s the beauty of it.
5. Dive for treasure
Go to a store, any store, that your character feels drawn to, and pick out an object. While pretending to be your character, describe the item with your eyes closed. Feel it all over. Get all the tactile sensations you can. Try rapping it with your fingers or knocking on it to hear the sounds it makes. Lick it if possible. Finally, open your eyes and examine the object. Describe it using all your senses, and then turn it into a story or a poem. Or fit it into a story you’re currently working on. In what way might it play a significant role? If you don’t want to buy anything, go through the stuff in your home, and pick something that appeals to your character.
6. Prognosticate the future
Get out some crayons, colored pencils, markers, or watercolors—whatever you have. Tapping into the visual centers of your brain helps spark your creativity. Draw or paint: stick figures, abstractions, whatever works—to illustrate the kind of life you think your character will be living 10, 20, or 30 years beyond the end of the story you’re writing. Or draw the next scene in your story.
7. Hopscotch through alternate realities
Write out 50 endings or openings for your story. Try radically different plot lines or slight variations. It’ll get you nice and tired. That’s when your brain is most likely to catch fire (figuratively, I hasten to point out). That’s when you’re most likely to let loose with brilliant ideas. So just give yourself a little nudge, and keep going.
Whenever you feel stale, stagnant, world-weary, and dreary, try one or two of the above techniques, or try them all. Think they’re odd? Skeptical that they’ll work? Consider what Carl Sagan said: “It is the tension between creativity and skepticism that has produced the stunning and unexpected.”
So. Write fast. Write loose. Open your creative floodgates. Go!
Do you have any techniques that help shatter your writer’s block? Let us know in the comments.