I’ve experienced two types of writing blocks:
- running out of ideas;
- running out of words.
I will start nevertheless with the second one since it is easier to deal with.
Sometimes you do have ideas, but you’ve written a lot during past days trying not to miss your deadlines, or for whatever reason. Afterward, you notice that you keep using the same wordings over and over again. Like your vocabulary has gone short, and you cannot recall any new words from your memory.
Running out of words
Back to school
I take my time and read something of prominent quality. I get back to classic books to keep my writing standard high. It fuels me with forgotten, rarely used, or almost archaic words. Such readings help to come up with a new elegant phrase.
If you are not really into classic literature, or you do not have much time, or just do not want to start anything long, I can recommend reading short stories.
O’Henry is my favorite. He is a master of short stories. They are neither boring nor too much absorbing. The same is eligible for Edgar Poe. The language of both is pleasantly thick, but there is little action in the stories, and they unfold in a relaxed, thoughtful way. We translated selected sections from O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi at our English classes at the university, word by word. It took us a couple of weeks.
Somerset Maugham has few short novels that are more dynamic and that hold your attention tight, so it may become difficult to put the book aside and get back to work.
I rarely pay for any subscriptions. There is only one magazine, I’ve paid to read for several years. TheEconomist has modern, but still quite a sophisticated language, with lots of idiomatic expressions, wording experiments, and so on. They tell a story, not just bring some boring facts together.
I made it through my master and especially Ph.D. dissertation by reading this magazine and a couple of popular science books and free downloadable articles from British geographer Nigel Thrift. Those are my icons, who do not fear to treat the language as a playground, to change it.
For a German language refresh I appeal to Der Spiegel, who publishes in-depth and very moving stories, and is less about economy and digits and infographics, but still has some.
For the tired eyes
Since I wear glasses, I often do not feel like reading after a whole day with my laptop. Thus, I sometimes turn to listening. Some magazines have their complete weekly editions as audio versions. If you are interested in marketing, then you have a chance to find good content among thousands of podcasts available now, but my experience was that for other topics you’ll have to invest some time and dig into the podcast streams.
You may look around for music bands that value good and pregnant lyrics. I taught English for a while and used to motivate my pupils with British and American rock to give them an idea of how much you can say with a refined phrase, play with hidden meanings and nuances.
Listening is also a better option for those commuting to their office, since you cannot read while driving your car, and public transport can be too noisy to read.
Running out of ideas
… is, indeed, another level of writers’ block.
My reason for ideas’ running short is most often a personal problem that takes possession of my mind. Oddly enough, the solution is to write.
I turn to my diary for a couple of hours to go through my emotions and what can have caused them. After I am purified and free from it, I am ready to produce new ideas. It does some good to use a pen and paper instead of a keyboard for some time, just to switch from typing to handwriting. But mainly it is all about taking the cork out of the bottle. The ideas are already there, I am not just momentarily able to articulate them.
Now and then we all have periods when we are too tired to reflect on our emotions. In such cases, I turn to music again. I am a lot into rock and heavy metal. It helps to “digest” negative emotions without actually proceeding on them. If you are more a pop or classic music listener, you may start with some melodic rock ballads.
Switch to picture mode
I reserve a separate time to go through all the visual content that I am going to add to my writings. After one hour of sorting my pictures, or drawing new ones, I am ready to get back to my keyboard.
I am no doctor, but I feel that a different part of my brain is active at this time, so my writers’ part can do a nap. If there are no orders that suppose working on visual content, I flick through some photo magazines.
The only bad idea is to turn on your television because it does not let you relax but will soak up your whole attention. I am no protagonist of any conspiracy theories, I just believe Marshall McLuhan on this point.
Talk to other people
I often talk to my friends about some interesting hints that I cannot really convert into ideas. Another person can have a fresh eye. Oftentimes a friend would supply me with a more practical side of the idea that I’ve already had.
It also turned quite a few times that a non-writer would show me that my idea was only interesting to me, but had no value for the others. And afterward, I would realize that this uselessness was the reason for the writing block I had. That helps to leave an idea behind and go to the next, a more promising one.
So, what I basically wanted to say, is that you need input. Both ideas and words. And you need people around you — maybe, just to hug you and say it’s going to be all right.