Several months ago I completed work on a collection of poems for a chapbook, Shades, that I am currently shopping for publication. After finishing work on this collection though, I was faced with a peculiar problem: I didn’t know what to write about.
This doesn’t happen to me often. I am not even close to writing every day, so when I have no ideas about writing I don’t write. I don’t put pressure on myself to write when I have nothing to say. However, This was different. I had spent the better part of a year writing, compiling, selecting, and editing poems about a particular topic. Now faced with the freedom to write about anything, I experienced this kind of option anxiety. What should I explore next? What perspective should I take on it? This problem forced me to actively take steps to beat my writer’s block, and here are some of the approaches that seemed to help.
Before I start, I should say that I avoided ideas that relate directly to writing. In talking with other writers, I have found that many of them use strategies and exercises such as restraint, where you place formal or topical limits on your work in order to see what comes out of it. These undoubtedly work, but for this list I wanted to go a little ‘out of pocket’ and see what other strategies work:
1. Exploring/Experimenting With Other Mediums
My latest bout of writer’s block seemed to have come from being too locked into one perspective or approach to writing. When this occurs, it is sometimes helpful to change that perspective, and other forms of art or expression often approach topics and material in different ways. Anything from going to an art exhibit, to messing around with drums, to seeing a play, to knitting could help you see writing through a different lens, and it could be enough to break the stalemate. The further away from your comfort zone this exploration is, the more effective it seems to be.
2. Hearing Other Writers Performing Their Work
For me, at least, there is something magical about hearing others present their writing to an audience. It helps us see things differently, and better understand what that author feels is important about their work. Sometimes I find myself writing down lines or images from their work that I would not have even noticed had I been reading the text of what they wrote.
3. Talking to Others About Their Work
Related to the previous entry, this involves a direct interaction with friends or acquaintances that write. Sometimes writer’s block for me comes as a result of not being surrounded by other artists and writers. This can be isolating, and at times uninspiring. But talking to others who are equally as passionate about what they do as you are can reignite that desire to create. It was this activity that, several years ago, got me writing again after years of not picking up a pen.
You can’t discount the importance of community to writing and art. If you do not know many or any other writers, look up local readings or events – they are good places to connect with kindred spirits!
4. Observing and Listening in Public Space
Okay, so this one can be a little awkward. When we are in restaurants, stores, coffee shops, etc., we see glimpses into other peoples’ lives. And other humans fundamentally interest us. So it is sometimes helpful to see and hear them as they interact in public. Think of it as people watching with intention. Go to a restaurant, mall, coffee shop, library, train station, or other public space. Sit and soak it in. Then see what people around you are doing. Watch their actions. Listen to the snippets of conversations that you can hear. This strategy was actually the one that jump started Shades and got me thinking about writing a collection that dealt with colors.
Now, granted, this could be a little uncomfortable. Some people don’t feel comfortable doing this alone. Many of us are also not used to experiencing public space without the buffer of our phone or technology. However, try it. You might find it beneficial.
Yeah, it’s broad, but that’s okay. Sometimes the best way to get ideas about writing is to do things other than writing. Go out with your friends. Fall in love. Visit other places. See your family. Walk in the park. Go kayaking. Go to a flea market. Whatever floats your boat.
Wordsworth defined poetry as a “Spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…recollected in tranquility,” but these feelings were caused and driven by our experiences. Logically, then, the more we do the more we’ll have to write about.
6. Above All, Don’t Panic
Remember that this too will pass.
So how do you combat writer’s block? What strategies do you use? I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading!