Picture the following situation: you’re rolling along in your car, tunes cranked up, on your way to work. The weather is fine, you’ve had your morning cup of coffee, and it’s shaping up to be a pretty great day. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it happens: taillights upon taillights, cars waiting to be able to move, brakes making all manner of noises they shouldn’t, and the inevitable, incessant beeping of car horns. This cacophony, coupled with the unforeseen delay in your journey, marks the kind of teeth-gnashing gridlock every driver wants to avoid. And you’re stuck smack-dab in the middle of it.
Sound familiar? It should. Those of us living in the Northern Virginia area know this traffic scenario well (after all, we do have some of the worst commutes in the nation). We know how infuriating (not to mention, exhausting) it can be. What we don’t realize—and if we do, we may be loath to admit—is that this situation can sometimes mirror our writing process.
If you’re anything like me—that is to say, if you like to write and do so frequently— you might find yourself stuck (every so) often, faced with the unfortunate phenomenon we fondly refer to as “writer’s block.” Like the aforementioned cars in bumper to bumper traffic, your thoughts cram together and slow to a crawl; you feel paralyzed, and then jolt forward in a burst of inspiration… only to slam on the brakes again moments later, brain bucking and squealing in protest.
Not a great feeling, is it? But, what can we do to keep this from happening?
Approach Writer’s Block Like a Traffic Jam
Here’s the thing most of us forget: writer’s block, like traffic, is temporary. Much like highway gridlock, it oftentimes clears up as suddenly as it starts. But just in case you feel like your writer’s block is lasting much longer than it should (and wreaking havoc on your schedule!), here are a few tips for how to beat it—just like an unwanted traffic jam. Hopefully, these tips will make you a better driver—er, writer—and help you return to your task as fast and with as much energy as possible.
- No rubbernecking. One of the biggest causes of terrible traffic is people’s propensity to rubberneck. Although it’s natural to be curious about what’s going on around you, rubbernecking is a distraction from a driver’s main task at hand—the road! If you fight the urge to take sideline distractions into account—such as Facebook, text messages, etc.—while you write, you will stay much more focused and get to the point faster.
- Tap your brakes—don’t slam. Slamming is only good in basketball, and screeching to a halt in the car is dangerous and hurts your car overall. Similarly, when writing, if you see that you’re starting to veer off track, don’t simply delete everything you’ve written up to this point and stop writing altogether—nine times out of ten, all you really need is a slight change of direction. Try to gently readjust what you’re trying to say when you feel like you’re going off-kilter; you probably don’t need to do a total U-turn in the middle of your piece.
- If you feel like you must bail and start fresh, do it… but understand that it has consequences, both in terms of time and effort. If you find yourself going North when you really are supposed to head East, then you will definitely need to change course, but you may need to readjust your writing schedule and let some people know—your supervisor, your professor, your client, whomever else you may be writing for—that your work is going to be later than expected.
- Plan out your time, and leave enough wiggle room. One of the best ways to avoid unforeseen delays is to budget enough time for them to happen. In other words, operate on a “just in case” basis: if you assume that something WILL hold you up, rather than expecting to simply sail through all the green lights without a problem, you may have enough time to recover if a problem does arise.
- Take the back roads. Taking one’s time to finish an assignment is a luxury we as writers, employees, business owners and managers don’t always have. However, if you see an opportunity to spend a little more time on the task at hand, it may be wise to do things in a roundabout way, and avoid the high-stress raceways to getting the job done.
- Work around certain times of the day. If you know that traffic where you live is awful at 4 pm, you wouldn’t drive unless you absolutely *had* to at that time of day, correct? You would logically wish to adjust your commute so you can get to where you’re going more efficiently. Well, why should writing be any different? If you are a morning person and are most articulate between the hours of 9 and noon, try to make sure you have a block of time in that period specifically intended for writing. Conversely, if you find it easiest to write at midnight, then hole yourself away with your midnight snack and get to it, if that is feasible! When possible, go with your body’s natural rhythms. Your writing process will thank you for it.
- Make your writer’s block work for you! If all your planning and preparation has not fended off the writer’s block, take advantage of this time and knock out all your other assignments that are due at or around the same time period. It may not be ideal, but when you’re stuck in an immobile “car,” there are still a number of things you can accomplish while waiting to pick up speed again: listen to the radio to catch up on the news, knock a couple of short phone calls out, or voice-record a to-do list for yourself for the rest of the day, week, month… you get the idea. The point is, even if you can’t write at the moment, it doesn’t mean you can’t get ANYTHING done, so if you’ve tried all your tricks and the block hasn’t subsided, it may be time to shift your energies to anything and everything else you have to do.
- Take heart in knowing… it WILL end. You will *eventually* pass Mile Marker 160. You will live to see another parking lot, another title or header, another full page of text. This too shall pass! And before too long, comparatively, you will be writing on your merry way once again.
In order to truly get your writing done, you have to get in the driver’s seat. No one is going to finish this piece for you; it is up to you to figure out how to get out of this block and onto clear roads once again. It might not be “fair,” and it definitely isn’t your fault… but you’re the only one who is going to get yourself unstuck. So, review these hopefully-helpful hints, place your hands squarely on the wheel—and your fingers on your pen—and get going!
How do YOU beat Writer’s Block? (Or heck, what are your commuting secrets?!) We want to know… comment below!