Five Ways to Battle Writer’s Block

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Whether I’m working on a book, a blog post, a sermon, or an article for work, writer’s block is inevitable: I sit down to write something, staring at a blank page, and feeling like there’s nothing. No ideas, no energy, nothing.

It happens to every writer. For some it’s a near-constant affliction. Others have come up with some go-to methods of overcoming it. 

How does a writer get past that wall, putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and produce something again? 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are a few tricks that have worked for me. 

1. Walk. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is get away from your computer or notepad. But if you’re stuck for an idea and are working with some kind of real deadline or goal, you can’t just plop on the couch to catch up on your Netflix binge-watching. You need something more intentional than that, to get out of your usual writing environment, move around, and brainstorm as you go. So grab your shoes and jacket and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Notice what’s around you. Even talk to yourself out loud if it’s not too embarrassing. 

2. Read. This might be a good time to pick up something from one of the writers that inspired you to have a go at this yourself. Or maybe you have a go-to magazine or blog whose output you find informative or insightful. It could be that some word or phrase will trigger your own creativity, you’ll learn something new or interesting, or just experiencing someone else’s prose will help get your own going again.

3. Observe. This is related to #1, except it might involve something other than a walk. Go to some public place like a coffeehouse, train station, pub, park, flea market; someplace where there are a lot of people and, consequently, a lot of different activities and experiences happening at once. Watching a lot of humanity being itself can remind you of something of the richness of what life has to offer, and you might want to capture some snippet of what you see in your own way for what you’re working on.

4. Drink. Okay, this conjures certain things right off the bat. I need to be quick to say that I don’t necessarily mean alcohol; we don’t need any more Hemingways or Fitzgeralds who are part genius, part addictive mess. I have found that when I sit down to write, I often like to have a mug of coffee nearby. The act of occasionally reaching over to sip somehow keeps me focused. It’s probably my own way of keeping my fidgeting in check. If coffee doesn’t do it for you, maybe tea or hot chocolate or even water would work better for you. And maybe a little sip of bourbon would be your thing. But I’m not endorsing getting blitzed and I’m not one who thinks that getting tipsy will unleash some bout of creativity deep within your psyche. I just think it’s a small action that can keep your brain on task.

5. Music. Pop on a record or start up a reflective playlist, sink into a chair, close your eyes, and let the soundwaves wash over you. What sort of experience is the artist trying to convey. Can you hear or see it? What’s it conjuring within you? What other things from your own life or from others’ come to mind as you listen and feel and react? How can you channel all those thoughts and emotions into your own work, or how can you convey what’s happening inside you into your own words so that others might share in them somehow?

Like I said, it’s not exhaustive, and I’m sure other writers have their own ideas. But these five ways have worked for me.

Mental Chemists

I have a deep love of books. I love reading them, making lists of them to read, taking notes from them (and sometimes in them), and chewing on the ideas that I’ve read.

Every time we take in new information from a book, we mix them with what we already know. Sometimes the result is volatile as something we long thought was true is challenged. Sometimes the two mix easily and our understanding of a subject is deepened. And sometimes we take what we knew and what we’ve just learned to create something new and exciting.

When we read, we become mental chemists, as these various elements interact. We won’t know what will result until it happens.

Every time I write a book, I hope that I’ve contributed something worthwhile to the reader’s mental mix. It’s gratifying to hear when I have.

What book will you add to your mind’s chemicals next?

A Prayer from the Roadside

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based on Luke 10:25-37

Faithful God, who is my neighbor?

I hope and pray that the answer takes my personal comfort into account. The ones who look, act, think, believe, and love just like me are easy to befriend. They are already on my pre-approved list of people to whom I’d offer support with little hesitancy.

But I don’t know if I could abide an answer that diverges much from that. I have too many ideas about what Those Others are like, and they’re all very scary. My favorite TV channels and print media affirm what I already think about them, and I’d much rather move to the other side of the road than offer assistance, much less receive help from them.

And yet your creation doesn’t function as neatly as the borders I’ve set up in my mind, despite my using you to justify raising them. And so whenever a situation threatens all my neat boxes, you present to me a choice whether to allow the need to matter more than social custom; whether to reach out beyond my privileged wall or to prioritize my own safety behind it.

O God, your answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” promises to be bigger than my prejudices. Grant me courage to not only hear it, but to respond as you would truly have a disciple do. Amen.