Staring at a blank computer screen sucks.
It makes me feel anxious: Will I find the right lede before the deadline? Am I ever going to come up with a good idea for a query?
Whenever I feel stuck, I walk away. For some odd reason, nothing sparks inspiration like leaving my office. (I’m sure there are studies that explain how the synapses in our brains fire differently when we’re not trying so hard. The phenomenon probably has some odd scientific name like “cognitive relaxation syndrome by proxy”).
If you’re waiting for inspiration, move away from the computer (finish reading this first).
Try these three suggestions to get those synapses firing:
Take a walk: My dogs love it when I have writers block because it means we spend a lot more time outside. While I’m walking the familiar route around our ‘hood and focusing on not getting five leashes tangled, entire articles write themselves in my head. This strategy works so well that I started carrying my phone so I could record a lede or make voice notes on the structure. The dogs are marking their territory and I’m working. Brilliant. (You don’t need to walk dogs or even leave the house to get the same benefit: Research shows that just standing up increases oxygen flow to the brain, stimulating faster and smarter thinking. Try working at the kitchen counter and see what happens).
Change media: I wrote my entire MFA thesis longhand; the original draft of this blog post was written on 8 1/2x 11 paper (complete with doodles of sea lions and polar bears). I know writers who keep bath crayons in the shower and make notes on the walls between rinsing and repeating. Maybe it’s the feel of a pen between my fingers or the texture of the paper beneath my hand that makes the words flow more easily. Maybe there’s some switch in my brain that makes me feel more at ease when I’m writing in purple cursive instead of Times New Roman 12 pt. Whatever it is, it works. Try it.
Draw a mind map: Remember the groups of interconnected circles you drew in high school English class to plot out an essay? I use the same techniques to develop story ideas. On a giant sheet of paper, I write the main idea in the center of the page and then draw circles all around it, each one with a potential variation on the idea. It helps narrow down the idea and define different angles (which can be sold to multiple publications). I asked a (reluctant) client to try it and he came up with at least 7 potential spins on his original idea.