Writing is like surfing. It doesn't matter how much planning you put into it, you've just got to go with the flow. There are ways to make sure you find the flow easily, but sometimes something gets in the way. In both surfing and writing, overthinking is the enemy and in writing, overthinking tends to manifest itself as the dreaded writer's block. We all feel it, some more than others. I'll sit for a solid hour at my computer watching the text line blink at me, the blank page taunting me, daring me to deface it with some sticks and circles. But I never give up.
Want some honesty? I started writing this very piece with two vastly different sentences, and then an idea came to me. I started with "work with what you have to become a better writer" and "ask enough questions until you have a novel". Quite honestly, those are some shitty sentences. They're two very different ideas I had for the direction of this, and try as I may to make sense out of the two, I couldn't. So I walked downstairs for some water and on the way back up, I remembered a conversation I had with a friend where he said surfing was like a philosophy. That's when the wheels started to turn.
I've never surfed, but from what I've been told, it's all about being in the moment and working with your environment as it is. You can't control the waves; all you can do is set yourself up for success by being in the right place and wait for the ocean to do its thing. All of that applies to writing and working around writer's block.
Writer's block is the mental block you experience when you try to write. Nothing feels right, and you're forcing your brain into a loop. Every new idea your brain spits out, the less you like it and the more frustrated you become. You're stressing yourself out over nothing. Literally nothing. The thing you're stressing about doesn't exist!
Writer's block is every new writer's fear. It's not intuitive, but fearing writer's block will bring it on faster. If you're afraid of not having an idea, it'll eat at you every time you sit down to write. You can keep a running list of ideas, but that won't always work. So really, the best way to avoid writer's block is to set yourself up for success and trust in yourself that you'll be able to get through it. Look at me. I wrote two useless sentences and took a small walk and all of a sudden you're reading this.
Here's some practical things you can do today to help get the gears turning in your head.
Take a walk
All the famous writers do it. Charles Darwin walked something like three hours every day. Stephen King walks around two hours every day. Hemingway walked every day (to the bar, but it still counts). But why does walking help? Walking is exercise. It gets the blood flowing to your brain, and relieves stress. This is the lifehack every writer is looking for. Stuck on an idea? Walk around the block. I'm sure some sort of idea will be growing by the time you're back.
Sit down and ramble. Get it out of your head. this is the "dance like no one's watching" of writing. Write the first thought that comes to your head, and then continue on it. Maybe change it up if some new thought comes up. Ask questions. If you've ever meditated, you know your head is full of noise. A large percent of it is useless noise, but when you focus in on the noise, you can usually catch something worth exploring. Refer to my two useless sentences in the second paragraph of this if you want an example of some free writing. Granted, I didn't write paragraphs, it was just two unrelated sentences, but it was enough.
The "Mad Men" Method
This one works if you've got some time on your hands. It comes from an episode of Mad Men where the lead character Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is talking about how to come up with ideas. He says to think really hard about an idea, and then stop. Go about your day, and don't return to the idea you were worrying about. Eventually, you'll get the sudden flash of the idea revealing itself to you, and then you dive into the work. What you're doing is planting the seed and letting it grow. You're setting yourself up for success. Here's an example. My last post took a while to figure out. I knew I wanted to write an article about relationships, but I didn't know what angle I wanted to take. I thought about the fact that I wanted to write about relationships, preferably giving advice to make your relationships better. I thought about it long and hard for a few minutes, running my brain through an overdriven loop. Then I stopped and went to make lunch. In the afternoon, I replaced a counter in my parent's house, and in the later afternoon the idea came to me. It was one of those "Eureka!" moments, and just like that I knew I was going to talk about how to argue properly. The only thing with this technique is that it takes time.
Other methods can include having a drink (tea, alcohol, water), meditation, or any other exercise to reduce stress. Stress is a huge problem for creatives because it clogs up our heads with too much noise.
With those techniques to set yourself up for success, you should be able to find your next wave to ride easily. These are all techniques I've used for building my writing habit and blogging three times a week. They're techniques I've used to write two books and half a book of poetry. And they're techniques you can use too. Good luck, and find your wave!