I Wouldn't Call It Writer's Block, Per Se

What do you do when you’re just not that into it: do it.

But lately I’ve been sitting here, staring at the blank screen, trying to figure out how to get started. The hands know what they’re supposed to be doing, but the brain is a little bit fuzzy.

So I say to myself, because a little bit of self-talk is a good thing I hear, “Nick, Just write. That’s all.”

Because when you get right down to it, that’s really it. I know this as a fact, because it’s what I did most days last year. When I ran out of things to write about, I just wrote.

Or when I felt stuck, I just wrote.

Or when the ideas wouldn’t come at all, I just wrote.

The formula is pretty simple: not feeling it? Do it.

The reality is that not every day will be your best day. Some days will be better than others and individual results will vary. But on most days, you usually have to prime the pump, especially at times when you’re not feeling well, your sleep is low, or you’re stressed, or any of the many obstacles that life throws at you lie in your path.

In all honesty, you could just blow it off, not do it, not find a way around the obstacle. That might work. That’s easy. But then it’s another day gone by that you didn’t write, didn’t start or finish that project. But that’s not very original.

Besides, anybody can not-do something. It’s fashionable. The real challenge is sitting down on those most difficult of days when it seems it’s not working. And do the work.

On those challenging days, you’re just not that into it. That means your energy is low, your creative thinking isn’t as sharp as it could be, and you’re emotionally overwrought. What’s left to write about? All the world has been written. At least, so it seems.

The best thing to do is to go meta and turn your thoughts on the challenge. Write about what you’re feeling and experiencing, ensuring that you describe it in no uncertain terms. What is it that’s blocking you?

The benefit of doing this is that you get to take an objective look at what you’re feeling, how it’s manifesting, and try to solve the puzzle of how you got into this mess in the first place.

My journal over the last few years is replete with such entries. It’s extremely beneficial inner work that allows you to identify causes and effects that can help you steer clear the next time a fit like this comes on. Because, that’s the goal really: awareness, recognition, and maneuvering.

And while you may devote thousands of words to the topic that never reach an audience beyond one, it is totally worth it because you are learning. You are learning what works, what doesn’t work, what won’t work. You are learning about what motivates you, what gives you energy, what sucks it out of you like a vampire.

The great thing about this learning is that you can apply it to other areas of your life. If you have a day job, there are times when you’re not feeling it. That’s okay. That’s the normal course of being human, though our employers (and therefore, we) don’t always see it that way. For some reason, we like to separate our humanity from our work, as if we’re machines that don’t feel or don’t have needs, at least from 9–5, or worse.

But we’re not machines.

We are human beings, and human beings have powerful emotions, feelings that no other creatures in our known universe seem to have. These emotions often serve as drivers of our behavior, and we must learn to master them if we want to move ahead a little bit every day. That mastery comes from doing the work when you don’t want to and reflecting on the experience. Take notes, you’ll need them later.

This is the simplest form of self-improvement, and one you don’t need a manual to describe. Although, the shelves at physical (and virtual for that matter) bookstores are loaded with books that can recommend some strategies, I find that if you simply focus on how to improve yourself over time, you’ll make small changes that will add up to big dividends down the road.

But therein lies the trouble. Nothing provides us with that instant gratification we seek. Instead, the gains we make will seem almost imperceptible, because they very rarely manifest themselves in wild swings in behavior. Instead, it’s a little here and a little there.

Take, for example, the malaise I presently find myself in. I’ve just returned from a busy weekend where I played five hockey games in four days. That’s plenty of physical and mental stress. Couple that with the fact that my day job is pretty stressful right now, it’s mid-winter in the Pacific Northwest where I live, and my life has been incredibly busy over the last several months. It should be no small wonder that I find myself in the place that I am.

So what can I do?

There are a few simple things that I can do right now to get the train back on track.

First, I can get regular sleep. That alone will do wonders to turn things around. If you want to get all science-y, recent studies have shown that sleep is oft-neglected, but incredibly important for even the most basic functions of our selves. Sleep deprivation results from lack of sleep, and it can slowly rot you from the inside out. Lack of sleep leads to all sorts of non-sensical decision making and a deterioration of your body, your mind, your faculties, and that eventually lands you in a hospital somewhere. So it’s best to get sleep while you can.

Second, I can restore my daily routines. My routines have been disrupted for awhile, and that’s created some cognitive dissonance. Our brains and bodies are inculcated by the daily routines by which we live our lives. I’m experiencing that dissonance which arises when your brain and body want to either return to the original routine or move toward the new experience, and my brain is refusing to pay the switch cost for either. So I’m stuck until I make a move. Putting the previous structure back into place will give me enough of a boost to get my head back in the game, unless the new structure is more desirable. Considering it hasn’t brought much improvement in my life overall, the choice seems obvious.

Third, I can make sure I’m getting adequate nutrition. Eat when you’re hungry, not because you feel like you should. Listen to your body, it often knows better than your brain here. An adequate amount of food and of the right variety will ensure I’m getting what I need to function.

Finally, I can make sure I’m getting adequate downtime. One thing I know about myself is that I’m mostly introverted and I need some recovery time after intense stretches of activity, especially ones in which I’m socializing on a regular basis. By making sure that I’m pacing myself with work and providing myself the opportunity to recover between tasks, I’ll get back in the game quicker.

No rocket science here. Just a few simple fixes that I know are the right pieces to solve the puzzle. I simply need to implement them and in a few days, I’ll find that my creative energy that was once waning is now returning and that my thoughts will come with ease and lucidity. Most importantly, the work will begin to flow.

Until then, I know I’ll continue to struggle. That’s just how it goes at times like these.

On the days you just don’t want to do it, but you know you should, you can turn inward to find the subject and keep going. Being introspective will help you know yourself better and balance the inputs and outputs of the body. Do it whenever you can and keep it up, and you’ll find that you can write even when you’re not that into it — or paint, or draw, or create spreadsheets — whatever it is that you are passionate about.

Give it a try. The results will surprise you.