Go to the Zoo! How to Overcome Writer’s Block.

“The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty…this emptiness can destroy some writers, as do the shame and frustration that go with it. You feel that the writing gods gave you just so many good days.”
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (pg.178).

Lemurs at the Bronx Zoo

My muse turned her back on me, strutted away, all the while laughing, “What I giveth, I taketh away.”

This is what writer’s block feels like to me. During these moments, all that practice I put into honing this craft vanishes and I stare dumbstruck at my laptop, goggling for words. My muse has left me and taken my writing skills with her.

On days like these the best thing you can do is fold up your lap top and walk away. Sure, give creative writing a try, but if you find yourself “smashing flies” like our old friend Bonnie Friedman step away from your writer’s desk. It’ll be there when you return.

Here are four approaches I take to writers block:  

1. Look for inspiration elsewhere.
If you can’t tell from the title of this post, I’m a big fan of the zoo. And animals in general. When I’m lost for words, I journey to places that I find inspiring (I’ll expand more on this in an upcoming post). I’m sure you have a few places tucked away. They’re places that excite your mind and generally, make you smile.

When I’m stuck, you’ll find me tucked away in one of these New York spots:
Central Park
The Museum of Natural History, The Met, or another one of NY’s major museums.
The Bronx Zoo or (more locally) the Central Park Zoo

Events can also inspire your creative mind. Concerts, plays, gallery openings, even movies are good fuel for your muse. Often, by indulging in another’s creative work, your own muse will peek out its head and eventually, return to you.

For other listings check out Time Out New York: http://newyork.timeout.com/arts-culture

2. Engage in another activity.
Whether you’re a writer, a painter, an actor, or a marketing executive, sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t overcome that block. Your creative brain packs up suitcases full of the pizazz that makes art so enjoyable and takes a vacation. Let him go.

In his absence, indulge the other hobbies that you’ve neglected on your shelf or call a friend. The point is to focus on the Other. When I’m blocked I go for a run, spend time with family/friends, and/or go to the neighborhood art store, grab a bag of clay, and begin sculpting. After a day away, I often awake to find my creative brain on my doorstep, with suitcases of new ideas.

Lee's Art Shop in midtown Manhattan.
3. Make use of your logical mind.
When words won’t come, I turn to non-fiction. By turning my attention away from the creative process and thinking in a more linear fashion, inspiration resurfaces and I imagine, consciously and unconsciously, how to overcome my block. No, I may not be able to write coherently during this time, but I can visualize my next scene or discover new sides of my characters.

Tuck away your monkey mind & think logically.
Non-fiction writing books that I find helpful…
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman
The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
The Scene Book by Sandra Scolfield
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

For more 5-star recommendations. Connect with me on Good Reads: Julianna N. Wilson.

4. Sleep on it.
If all else fails, take a nap or tuck in for the evening. Sometimes your worst enemy is not your muse, but exhaustion. On the nights that I’m blocked, I like to see how my block manifests itself in my dreams. Sometimes characters show up to talk me through it, other times I find myself struggling over my own physical or psychological hurdles.

These approaches can be used for any type of block (creative or not). To contradict the modern saying, turn away from your problem. Your unconscious mind will continue to work through that block while you seek stimulation and inspiration elsewhere.

How do you overcome your creative blocks?
The peacock at the Bronx Zoo.