If you’ve been painfully constipated for weeks on end, would you take a laxative?
Of course you would. You won’t feel better until you get that shit out of there.
Today we’re going to talk about the mental kind of constipation:
The tips that follow are my go-to artistic laxatives for making sure everything flows smoothly again.
Some of these tips will be the usual boring bullshit you’d expect to read in an article like this. That’s because they work.
But most of them are going to be quite unconventional.
I’m not trying to be kooky here. If they’re on this list, it’s because they’ve helped me get over writer’s block.
Before we step into the ring with writer’s block and make it our bitch, let’s do some diagnosing.
Come sit on my knee.
Stick out your tongue and say ‘ahh’.
Dr. Ben is going to help you figure out why you’ve got writer’s block in the first place.
*Legal Disclaimer* – not real doctor. My medical certificate is in blue and red crayon, drawn by me on the back of a Burger King receipt.
The only two reasons for writer’s block
If you’ve got writer’s block, it’s because of one of two reasons.
We can obviously break it down further, but this is what it amounts to.
Your life sucks
When you’re late on bills, constantly being DP-ed by your boss and HR, and your wife keeps inappropriately touching the gardener, it can be hard to sit down and write.
Sometimes (most of the time) you just gotta admit that writer’s block is really just a symptom of a far more serious issue.
Complaining about writer’s block and asking how to cure it is almost as inane as trying to cure a headache when you know you’ve got a brain tumour.
If you want to get to the source of life-suckiness, think about the following three areas of your life:
Health Wealth Love
Lacking in any of those areas can often create such background noise in your life that writing is basically impossible.
If you have tension headaches/undiagnosed diabetes/IBS/or anything, it can be real hard to sit in front of a screen and type.
If you’re struggling to pay rent, you might not want to explore the glories of your genre or craft carefully nuanced characters.
And love. We all need to feel appreciated. We all need to feel like someone actually gives a damn whether we keep breathing or not.
Maybe you’re hurting from a break-up that wasn’t exactly “mutual”.
Or maybe you just need to fall asleep next to someone who makes you feel good.
If you’re lacking in love, you might not see the point of putting words on a page.
Your life’s too good
This is the complete opposite to the above problem.
Seeing as most people have sucky lives, this might not apply to you.
But maybe you think your life sucks but really you are just too damn comfortable.
You have a partner you take for granted.
You have enough money for rent and food and normal stuff.
Every night you smush wedge after wedge of greasy pizza into your face while you drool over Netflix then maybe you jerk yourself off to sleep.
Hey, I’m not judging. But if that’s your life and you’re complaining of writer’s block, I gotta tell you something. You’re too comfortable.
The problem with comfort is it makes doing things that take even a modicum of effort, like writing, really hard.
Given the choice between putting emotions, insights, and imagery down into a coherent story form and watching QVC with a bottle of Jim Beam in soiled underwear, many would choose the latter.
So those are the reasons for writer’s block. You’ll know instinctively which one is your reason.
Bizarrely, you can actually be suffering from writer’s block because of a blend of those two reasons: life suckiness AND life-too-goodness.
The tips below should help you bust out of your writer’s block but you’ll probably have to try a few different ones, or a combination, before you find something that works in your situation.
Remember, I’m a doctor (*disclaimer* not a real doctor), and these tips are my suggested medication. If one doesn’t work, we’ll just try another one until we get the one that’s right for you.
I started the Wim Hof Method over a month ago and it’s been one of the best investments I have ever made. The course combines breathing techniques, exercises, and cold water therapy to give you more peace, happiness, creativity, and motivation. I’ve seen my word count and creativity shoot up since starting the course. You can read my review here.
Gorge on art
If you’re suffering from writer’s block, the reason might be because you aren’t getting enough artistic input. I’ve certainly noticed a correlation between artistic input and output. When I’m reading everyday, watching great movies and plays, and looking at art, the amount I write shoots up.
But sometimes life gets in the way. Carving out time to write each day can be hard enough. Sometimes you forget to read when you have a lot going on. In those moments of artistic dry spells, you need to remind yourself how important it is to study your craft.
Stephen King said it best: ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’
Make sure you’re consuming as many different types of storytelling as possible. Sometimes it can be as simple as revisiting things you like in other storytellers. Listening to Tarantino dialogue recently busted me out of a little funk.
I also recommend this book.
Get sweaty and out of breath
Exercise is good, blood flow to the brain, yada yada yada.
You already know this stuff.
But writers aren’t usually famed for their athletic prowess so it’s important to stress this tip.
You need to do some form of cardio a few times a week. I also recommend lifting some weights too but I understand it’s not everyone’s thing.
My current routine:
- Yoga almost every day.
- Lift weights 2-3 times a week
- Cardio in the form of walking or light jogging 2-3 times a week
Due to travelling, I couldn’t find a gym for around 3 months and I gotta say, I felt like crap. When I finally found a gym, I felt like a brand new person right after the first workout.
Binaural beats/movie soundtracks/good music
Binaural beats are awesome.
They’re audio tracks that change your brain frequency in order to achieve a certain effect.
There are ones that wake you up, ones that put you to sleep, ones that make you feel more creative.
A lot of people think binaural beats are useless but I love them. Placebo or not, I’ll take it. Here are some of my favourites:
As well as binaural beats, it’s worth experimenting with different musical tracks and see if they get you in the mood to write.
Music is incredibly evocative and many artists have broken free from shooting artistic blanks by listening to some great tracks.
Here are some I’m enjoying at the moment:
What’s the most fucked up thing I could write?
Maybe you don’t want to write because you’re playing it too safe. If what you’ve been writing isn’t doing it for you, you probably need to shake things up.
Just ask yourself: ‘What’s the most fucked up thing I could write?’
If you have a story manuscript and the characters need CPR, try breathing some abject filth down their throats.
Here are a few focusing questions that might rekindle your passion to write:
- What is a horrible truth about humanity that no one ever talks about? Write that.
- What’s the most glorious truth about humanity that no one ever talks about? Write that.
- What is something you are most afraid of telling someone else? Write that.
Writers often fear that writing a certain thing is going too far. What they don’t realise is that they are not going far enough.
Readers need to be jolted out of the boredom of their lives. And so do you. So stop writing stuff you think you ‘should’ write.
Get your hands dirty. You can always clean it up later if it really looks too messy (chances are it won’t though).
You got two choices here. I don’t know which one is right for you because I’m not in your body right now. But you’ll know which one seems right for you:
1. Have sex
2. Refrain from sex
Those are your two options. You can’t do both at the same time (trust me). So you gotta pick one.
Sometimes writer’s block is just horniness.
If you find yourself staring at the Microsoft Word Paperclip and wondering how you could make it’s eyes bug out even more, you need to do two things ASAP: Have sex and get an updated computer.
Conversely, maybe you’re spending too much time and energy on affairs of the heart and loins. If that’s the case, take a week/two weeks/a month off and direct the energy into your writing. That energy HAS to go somewhere, so you might as well plonk yourself down in front of the paper and write.
By drugs I mean completely natural over-the-counter herbal supplements.
I’m not advocating anyone to ride the white highway until the bridge between their nostrils corrodes just to pump out a fantasy YA novel.
But you can get some really great mental effects from taking a type of herb known as adaptogens.
The three I recommend have been studied endlessly and have been used with great effect in Ayurvedic medicine (Indian herbal medicine) for thousands of years.
My personal writing stack looks like this:
- Bacopa (750mg in the afternoon)
- Ashwaghanda (450mg in the afternoon)
- Rhodiola rosea (100mg in the morning)
They’re adaptogens, which means they help your body adapt to stress.
They help lower cortisol and boost your energy.
Bacopa is great for improving your memory and making you less anxious.
Ashwaghanda is great for raw motivation and calm.
Rhodiola also helps with motivation and making you feel more relaxed.
These three supplements are great on their own but synergistically they are magical.
In addition to these supplements, I recommend combining l-theanine (the relaxing stuff in green tea) with caffeine.
You can do this by drinking green tea at the same time as your coffee. Or you can take an l-theanine pill with your coffee.
If you need green tea recommendations, I personally love these three Japanese types:
You might also want to supplement with some essential minerals and vitamins.
These are the two that are most likely to make you feel great:
Many writers are severely deficient in vitamin D. That’s because it’s the sunshine chemical and we like to hide away inside with the curtains closed.
Even if you’re out and about during the day, you probably not getting enough Vitamin D. So make sure you supplement it and you’ll feel more awake, happy, and motivated.
Magnesium has some anti-anxiety effects and makes you feel relaxed. Most people are deficient in this too (especially if you work out and sweat a lot).
Eat super healthy
The other day I woke up and drained three big cold glasses of water.
Then I enjoyed a light breakfast of nuts and fruits.
Then I hit the gym, lifted some weights and went for a jog.
After the gym, I bought a green smoothie from a hippy shop in the city center. It was one of those smoothies than had so much good stuff crammed into it that it was basically a brown, foul-tasting sludge and you had to chew through chunks of avocado, spinach, and ginger.
After that, I had a cold shower and sat down to write.
The words poured out of me just like I feared the smoothie was going to later (it didn’t).
I felt clean and clear-headed. I felt light. And that translated to more and better writing. So try it. Clean up your diet and see if you notice a difference. I guarantee you will.
Seriously, Bukowski was fucked up 24/7. You wanna be like Bukowski, right? Better get drinking.
Nah, I’m just kidding.
Personally, I quit drinking about 3 years ago. I didn’t have a problem (I swear) but I just didn’t like it anymore.
But back when I drank, I found a glass of red wine or some whiskey to be very beneficial in lubricating the brain and the testicles (I spilled it on myself and I write naked sometimes).
If you have more than a glass, you’ll probably produce drivel. You want just enough to access the creative benefits of alcohol and not the sedative/asshole effects.
Put your phone on vibrate (if you know what I mean)
No, I don’t mean shove it up your funny parts.
What if you accidentally FaceTimed your aunt when you do that?
This is what I mean:
- Put your phone on airplane mode
- Set your alarm to vibrate after 1 hour
- Sit in front of the blank page.
You now have two options:
1. Do nothing
Until the timer goes off, that’s all your going to be doing.
Even if you don’t write anything, you can consider this exercise a success. But I have a sneaking suspicion that you will put down something, no matter how small and terrible.
Take a trip somewhere
Waking life feeds your dreaming life. Sometimes the best way to break through writer’s block is to go do something you’ll wanna write about. Hemingway had his bullfights. Nabokov chased butterflies. Burroughs chased a smack-high. Christie went on archeological digs. Me? I like to travel. That’s what does it for me. The weirder the better. My recommendation is Japan.
You know what writer’s block really is?
Writer’s block often happens when you’re self-editing. You’re not enjoying the process of writing. You’re too busy thinking about what people will think when they read it. Or will they even read it at all?
Well those thoughts do nothing but harm. Writers like to romanticise writer’s block. But all too often we don’t realise that we’re the only profession that has this ‘block’.
I can’t remember who said it. But someone pointed out that plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, electricians don’t get electrician’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block.
Seriously, we need to stop thinking writer’s block is so cool and a legitimate reason not to work. We need to stop being sissy little princesses and just do the damn work. If that means sitting in front of a blank screen for hours on end or writing completely crap, so be it.
Work through it. Don’t give up so easy. Accept that no one feels on top of the game all the time. But no one feels like crap all the time either (if you do, maybe you should quit).
Writer’s block will pass. If you’re a writer, you have to write.
Even if you think it sucks, you have to, have to, have to write.
You can’t define yourself by what you don’t do. If you call yourself a writer, you better write something. Anything.
Now go make writer’s block your bitch
Alright, the doctor’s visit is over now. I’m pulling my finger out, taking off the rubber gloves, and writing out your prescription in handwriting I know you won’t be able to read.
Now go forth and spill your writerly seed.
P.S. Do you have any of your own writer’s block suggestions? Post them in the comments and I’ll make this post longer and more comprehensive 🙂