We've all been there. The assignment has been given and you've done your research. Or you know the story you want to write—it's just time to start writing it.
Then the words won't happen. You stare at a blank screen and think, "Maybe if I try hard enough, they'll just start flowing. So, you think harder and you stare even harder," but writer's block seems a very real thing, despite its doubters. What do you do when you don't feel the inspiration to write?
Here's a list of 12 things you can do right now to smash your writer's block to smithereens.
- Read a book
Stephen King once wrote,
If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.So, there are two things that reading a book will do for you if you find yourself without inspiration to write. First, if it's a well written one, it will show you what you need to do to craft a good story. Second, it will clear your head (and your schedule) for a few minutes to allow inspiration to flow easier.
- Go for a walk
There are several beneficial things that happen to your brain when you exercise. This particular study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition showed that walking affects the brain by encouraging a free flow of ideas, making it a great way to get the creative juices flowing when you don't feel inspired to write.
- Drink a glass of wine
Famous alcoholic writers aside, a study in the journal Consciousness & Cognition showed that a small amount of alcohol can indeed help a writer be more creative. The study's lead author, Dr. Mathias Benedek, said there were two possible reasons alcohol makes creativity happen. First, it helps you to not be fixated on a problem, as it makes it more difficult to focus, helping your mind get "unstuck" from its fixation. Second, since it distracts you from the central task at hand (writing), it helps the mind work on a more subconscious level, which is where inspiration often happens in the first place. However, the study's authors were quick to point out that moderate to heavy drinkers should expect decreased creativity.
- Change your environment
Sometimes a simple change in your environment is all that is needed to feel inspired to write. If you're indoors and feeling uninspired, try going outdoors. If you're in your office or preferred writing space and still without inspiration, light a candle, open a window, turn a fan on, change the lighting—do something to alter your environment. Even the slightest change in environment will encourage your brain to "reset" from whatever mode it's stuck in, and hopefully move it toward a more creative process.
- Do the 30 Circles Test
This creative exercise, developed by Bob McKim and later featured on Tim Brown's TEDTalk on creativity, is a quick way to exercise your brain and encourage it to go into a more creative mode. First, draw 30 circles on a piece of paper, like this:
Next, start a timer at 3 minutes and see how many designs you can incorporate into each of the circles that are varied and unique. The goal is quantity of circles filled rather than quality of your sketches. For example, the first circle might be a globe, while the next circle could be a sun. Continue drawing in each of the circles until the 3 minutes is up and see how many you can complete within that timeframe.
- Wash the dishes or [insert random chore here]
Distraction can work against you but can also be a good thing if you're waiting on inspiration to strike. Getting away from your laptop, moving around, and completing a chore or two not only resets your mind away from the blank page and more toward getting things done—it also makes your house a lot cleaner on particularly unproductive writing days. If nothing else, that's making lemonade of lemons!
- Drink a cup of coffee
It's no secret among writers and creatives—coffee is where it's at when creative energy is low. And there's science to back this up. For example, in this study published in Nature Neuroscience, scientists found that caffeine strengthens electrical signals in rats' hippocampus. This means that coffee has the potential to strengthen synapses associated with creativity and in moderate doses, can help a writer get past the uninspired moments.
- Eat chocolate
There are a ton of medical and mental benefits to eating chocolate, including benefiting creativity. Don't believe me? Check out this study published by the Journal of Nutrition. Dark chocolate is especially healthy, with just the right amount of caffeine and serotonin-boosting chemicals to set your brain in high creative gear.
- Write anyway
Many writers believe that if you just start putting words on a page, they'll end up turning into something good. It's the "something is better than nothing" philosophy, and at the very least, is a stream-of-consciousness exercise that forces the brain to get into creative mode. A lot of writers have made a decent living and name for themselves with this kind of unedited, spur-of-the-moment prose (Hunter S. Thompson, for example)—perhaps because they saw the benefit of it to get a writer out of self-doubting and self-editing habits.
Proponents of meditation have long sung its praises in how it affects their minds and bodies. Now, there is research out of Leiden University in the Netherlands, which studied two types of mediation and how it affected a person's creative functioning. After assigning two types of meditation to the study participants, focused-attention (focusing on your breath) and open-monitoring (focusing on inner and outer states), the study's authors showed that participants who practiced open-monitoring meditation were better able to come up with new or divergent ideas.
- Eat fatty fish
Fatty fish like salmon, halibut, and tuna are a great natural source for Omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to the many diseases Omega-3 acids have been found to help protect the body against, Omega-3s also provide the building blocks for DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA makes up a large part of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for memory, language, abstraction, creativity, judgment, emotion and attention. DHA also supports neurotransmitter health, involving dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine.
- Turn off your computer and go do something else—anything else
The power of distraction is significant if you can manage to not be distracted too much. One study published in Psychological Science used an incubation paradigm to assess whether performance on validated creativity problems can be facilitated by engaging in either a demanding task or an undemanding task that maximizes mind wandering. Put simply, the researchers tried distracting the study's participants with a hard task and an easy task to encourage creative output and found that simple, nondemanding tasks allow the mind to be distracted just enough to encourage creative problem solving.