How to Navigate Writer’s Block: From, a Perpetually Burnt Out Writer

So, I’m a writer—and what I mean by that is that I very rarely write, and what's more- I rarely write something I’m satisfied with. I’m sure many of my fellow English majors and creative writers can relate, considering all I do for my classes and my free time is… you guessed it… write. It can be hard to separate the academic side of my brain from the creative side, and with the never-ending pile of essays and short stories always lurking over my shoulder, sometimes everything feels like it all gets jumbled up in my brain.

writing in journal on desk Photo by NeONBRAND from Unsplash When this happens, it feels like I short circuit. I don’t get anything done because all the inspiration I once had has melted into a pile of mush at my feet. Sound familiar? I guess I have a certain “formula” for writing essays (lots of tears, procrastination and guilt), which requires a specific English-major mindset. And, writing essays—while utterly soul-sucking, most of the time—require that academic side of my brain, which I can pretty much switch on when needed. Creative writing is an entirely different story, and an entirely different rut to get stuck in. Nothing compares to that one-off moment when a spark of inspiration ignites on its own, but I’ve found some methods that work to kick me into gear when I am exhaustingly and absolutely stuck.

blonde woman with ponytail with her head in her hands leaning over a laptop Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels One of the first things I like to do when I’m trapped by the nothingness of my ideas is listen to music. Now, I guess it really depends on what kind of writing you do; in my case, I tend to write sad, nostalgic, tragic stories. (No, I’m not mentally stable, if you couldn’t tell.) Anyway, for me this means listening to sad, nostalgic music. My favourite genre for this feeling is shoegaze, which may or may not be a real genre, but I think it encompasses a range of dreamy, sad, make-you-question-your-existence type of music. Listening to music when I have writer’s block is a way for me to tap into my feelings and word vomit whatever comes to mind. It’s great for writing poetry, or for writing a blurb as a starting point, and later building a story around that. The bottom line is: when I want to write based on or around feeling, this is my go-to. A few of my favourite artists that evoke this feeling for me are Mazzy Star, Drop Nineteens, The Cocteau Twins, Duster, and Ovlov. (Note: a few. I could go on for days with this list.)

Listening to boombox Photo by Eric Nopanen from Upsplash When I’m stumped on where and how to begin a short story, I like to watch movies. Again, I do have a specific genre that inspires me to write, including coming of age storylines and, really, any movie that deals with immense emotional trauma. Obviously if you specialize in a more positive genre of writing, you may want to explore a more positive genre of movies, but this works for me! Sometimes all I need is to be able to visualize a story from beginning to end. Often when I have writer’s block, I feel like I’ve forgotten everything. Watching movies helps me get into a narrative headspace, and—referring back to the music method—induces lots of feelings which inspire me to create. A few movies that I refer back to often are Frances Ha, Short Term 12, and 20th Century Women.

Girl watching Netflix Photo by Mollie Sivaram from Unsplash Journaling is another way I like to get creative. In instances where I’ve hit a wall, I sit down with my journal and “ramble journal”, which is basically just word vomit all over again. You write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s the most mundane of things, like what you had for breakfast. This will lead to another thought, and another thought, and sometimes I surprise myself with where I end up. Alternatively, I’ll use journaling prompts that are more aimed toward inciting a narrative, or I’ll read through old journals. This option can be really fun, because I have journals upon journals from different times in my life. They’re interesting to read, for starters, but also I may read something I had forgotten about and run with that for a piece. I can read my thoughts from an entry and develop that person into a character. The possibilities are endless.

person writing outside in notebook Photo by StockSnap from Pixabay

Moral of the story is, writing is hard! Being creative and coming up with new ideas is hard, finding inspiration is hard, and doing work or even things we love can be hard. Sometimes all we need is a starting point and a crumb of imagination. Maybe these ideas will help you out, maybe they won’t (I mean, they’re not revolutionary tips). But, if you’re a writer like me, you probably don’t write anyway.