Beat writer's block with these 10 tips, supported by scientific studies, from Estelle Erasmus's article from the September 2019 issue of Writer's Digest.
You heard that correctly—there is a cure for writer’s block, according to science. The next time you’re stuck, try one of these proven tactics.
Many of my writing students share a common complaint: They can’t get past writer’s block. When that feeling of futility strikes (it does for everyone), I reassure them that it’s part of the process and there are many remedies for getting unstuck.
If the muse just won’t manifest, here are a few ways supported by scientific evidence to knock down those blocks so you can build something lasting with your words.
- Repetitive Action Relaxes: My best ideas come to me when I’m doing something over and over again such as folding laundry, mailing out batches of invitations, doing dishes, or wrapping a large number of presents.
Why it works: A study out of the University of Oregon demonstrated that rote activity allows the mind to wander, making it easier to tap into our creativity.
- Get Those Endorphins Pumping: At a loss for words? Working out on the treadmill, going for a bike ride, or running outside are easy ways to generate creativity.
Why it works: Research demonstrates that aerobic exercise allows the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that grows new cells that aid memory, idea generation, and imagining new situations.
- Music of the Mind: Music helps you access the creative, expressive part of the brain and helps get you into a relaxed beta state. Some writers use classical music to kickstart their writing because there are no distracting lyrics.
Why it works: Studies show that music can calm neural activity in the brain, which can reduce anxiety and boost the immune system.
- Catch Someone’s Creativity Bug: For a change of pace, head to a local coffee shop or library where others are working hard on their own projects to get a head start on your own.
Why It works: Researchers have proven that being around people working on their own creative projects can compel you to copy them—infusing you with their work ethic, concentration, and productivity.
- Change the Form: Can’t seem to get started? Write your essay in a poem or letter. Or, try a different font. I change my font from Times New Roman to Garamond or Comic Sans when I’m stuck.
Why it works: Changing your mode or format of writing breaks up organized, systematic, analytical thinking through a concept called neuroplasticity that encourages your brain to make new connections.
- Water Washes Your Blocks Away: Many writers find their best creative ideas or solutions while taking a shower.
Why it works: The more relaxed and disengaged you are—like when you’re showering or bathing—the more dopamine is released by your brain, spurring creativity, insights, and ideas.
- Take a Stroll: A slow, 20-minute walk can help you break through a creative slump.
Why it works: Researchers at Stanford University found that walking improves a person’s creative output by 60 percent. That’s because walking offers the same brain-boosting endorphin rush and increased serotonin equal to the benefits of an aerobic workout.
- Engage in New Experiences: Try a new restaurant, take a vacation (or a staycation), or see a new movie to slow down your brain and interrupt patterns that keep you stuck.
Why it works: Our brains process familiar information quickly. But it takes our brains longer to organize and synthesize the data in new information, which makes the experience more memorable and pleasurable. This state encourages creativity.
- Put Social Media on a Temporary Hold: When you are blocked, make a deal with yourself to write for an hour or two without checking Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Why it works: You are not multitasking, which has been proven to overstimulate your brain, causing scrambled thinking.
- Take a Mental Margarita: Give yourself permission to check out of writing for an hour, a day, or a weekend. The mind needs its downtime to think, ponder, incubate, and create.
Why it works: A study from the Netherlands found that even when we take a break from a project, our unconscious still thinks it through, operating as if it were a background app on our phone. When I veg out, I spend time with family, watch TV, or read a novel. I always come back refueled because my stream of unconsciousness has already worked to crystallize my ideas.
My goal is always the same: to get to a state of flow, a psychological state in which you are so completely absorbed in a task that you lose a sense of time and place. It’s a destination that isn’t easy to achieve but when you get there, it is worth the wait. So, trust in the process and you will find your words once again.