Current writing ability slides along a scale. At one end lies irrepressible brilliance, and at the other end lies writer’s block, with much variability between them. Sadly, the creativity-distribution system that resides within every writer is the product of an indifferent evolutionary process.
Sure, it works well enough for the most part, but it’s deeply flawed. It’s prone to getting clogged, carrying only a trickle, or getting disconnected from the source entirely. For the dedicated professional, this is an ever-grating reality — one minute you’re spooling out metaphors, and the next you’re looking at the nearest wall, your mind suddenly blank.
When the odds fall against you and your creative supply runs dry, you have two options. You can capitulate and simply hope for it to return in full force (waiting to strike when the iron is hot), or you can take action to rejuvenate it (making the iron hot by striking). On balance, I’d always take the latter — and I’d recommend attempting these 5 easily-overlooked exercises:
Doing actual physical exercise
Writing is an intellectual pursuit, and must be solved using the power of your brain, but your physical condition significantly affects your mental state. When you sit around all day, your senses are starved of new data, and your muscles atrophy. Humans evolved as endurance athletes, after all. Festering in office chairs was never part of the routine.
And even if you left aside that link, exercise takes the pressure off your primary task. Away from your writing device, whether on a walk or in the gym, you’re free to casually think without feeling the need to write anything down. When you ultimately resume writing, you’ve significantly changed both your physical state and your perspective. Get moving!
Getting some refreshing sleep
This isn’t all going to be about health, but the simple act of getting more sleep is overlooked to a comical extent. Sleep is easily viewed as wasted time, and even when you fully recognize its demonstrable importance, it still feels like a gamble. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring, after all. Today might be creatively frustrating, but it’s a known quantity, and we like safety.
But an important concept to consider here is the sunk cost fallacy. When you resist sleep because you’ve already put so much time into your writing session but you’ve yet to achieve anything, you’re throwing good time after bad. You’re stealing productive hours from tomorrow and rendering them useless. So don’t cling on to the moment: let the bad days go.
Writing freewheeling dialogue
Story beats are tricky. The longer you work on a narrative, the more thickly-interwoven it becomes, making continuity a persistent thorn in your side. You might write your plot into a corner, then spend weeks (or even months) trying to come up with a satisfactory conclusion. And the more you focus on it, the harder it becomes to produce anything fresh.
So why not take a break from that and just start writing some context-free character interactions? You can use characters from your main narrative, or invent some new ones, or use people you know. Writing spoken exchanges is fun and engaging, offering a low-pressure way to spark creativity — additionally, knowing how to write dialogue in fiction is a core skill for a creative writer (a story deprived of dialogue would be heavily hamstrung), so it’s good practice.
Bouncing ideas off someone
Many writers love being solitary when working. No conversation to make, no distractions to endure, just you confronting your screen or writing surface of choice. But it can so easily lead to stagnation and self-doubt. You can start circling back to the same ideas over and over again, not wanting to use them but also not quite able to shake them. You need a fresh perspective.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you need a writing partner. You don’t even need to get significant input from someone — just have a sounding board. Simply telling someone your thoughts and gauging their reactions can be enormously informative, and even allow you to better understand your own thoughts. If you take the time to fully explain the creative obstacles you’re facing, you might find that you happen upon a viable solution.
Using the cloak of darkness
No, I’m not suggesting that you wear a theatrical cape — instead, I’m contending that you should try writing outside of regular daytime hours. You’ll still need to find time for sleep (as noted), and avoid being too isolated (as also noted), but the day can be too noisy and busy for you to clear thinkly. On the other hand, the night is gentle and peaceful.
Try taking a walk at midnight. Areas swathed in shadow spark the imagination, because you need to fill in the blanks. You’ll also find that everything looks very different when your focus isn’t consistently being shifted by other pedestrians crossing your path. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a relatively-rural area, it might feel as though you have the world to yourself. That kind of atmosphere is massively conducive to creativity.
Every writer will have their own suggestions about how to overcome a creative slump. Read more books, take a break, change your style, write something totally new, etc. Each of those tactics can work, but I suggest trying these 5 — they’re worth your time.