5 Tools to Give You a Running Jump Over Writer’s Block

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Editor's Note:

Olivia Fox Cabane has lectured at Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, and the United Nations, and is an executive coach to the leadership of Fortune 500 companies. Judah Pollack is a speaker, author and strategic advisor to CEO’s and founders in the art of leadership. They co-wrote The Net and the Butterfly, and join Signature to suggest 5 tips for overcoming writer’s block.

There is nothing worse than the blank page, or screen. It stares back at you. Mocks you. It seems to laugh like it’s ticklish at every attempt you make to write a word on it. In doing research for our book, The Net and The Butterfly, we learned how the brain achieves breakthroughs. Your brain’s creative engine, what we call the genius lounge, and the tools we created to access it can help with writer’s block. Here are five tools to help spark your insight and carry you over any writer’s block.

1) Change one rule in the world of your genre.

If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, change one rule of nature. Imagine gravity stops working at 10pm. Or imagine the continents move around the earth at 100 mph. How is the world, how is culture different because of this one rule change? If gravity stops working at 10pm, how do you have late night parties? If the continents move so quickly, how do people prepare for such fast-changing seasons? Do the rich move from continent to continent to stay in the best weather?

If you’re writing a character-driven piece, change one rule of biology. Imagine people lived to 130 years old in excellent health. How would this change the way people saw marriage, parenthood, careers?

These exercises don’t have to lead to what you’ll actually write about. But they will help spark your brain into new places.

2) Draw the scene you’re stuck on.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be a good drawing. Stick figures work fine. But drawing accesses your genius lounge in a completely different way than words. When you’re blocked on what to write you may have an easy time drawing it. You can even use a series of square frames like a story board to draw out scenes and write the captions or dialogue underneath.

3) Touch different textures.

While writing is undoubtedly a mental exercise, the genius lounge takes in amazing amounts of sensory information. And our hands have veritable superhighways up into our brains and our genius lounge. Running your hand along a brick wall, touching a silk scarf, the feel of a chain on a swing set–all of these will send igniting sparks into your genius lounge. They will also, chances are, spark memories.

4) Memory Jukebox.

Memories are another way to spark your genius lounge to life. Sometimes we ignore our memories because we feel like we already know them and they can’t give birth to something new. But because our memories have neural connections to parts of our brains that think about the future and infer possibilities, our memories are keys to thinking creatively. So open up an old yearbook, look through your photos, and ask your parents what you were like as a child.

5) Responsibility transfer.

We can often get blocked because of our own fear that we will not write well enough. With the responsibility transfer you take responsibility for the outcome and place it onto a higher being, thus relieving yourself of the pressure that can cause a block. Here’s how it works.

  • Sit comfortably or lie down, relax, and close your eyes.
  • Take two or three deep breaths. As you inhale, imagine drawing clean air toward the top of your head. As you exhale, let that air whoosh through you, washing away all worries and concerns.
  • Pick an entity—God, fate, the universe, whatever may best suit your beliefs—you can think of as benevolent.
  • Imagine lifting the weight of everything you’re concerned about—this meeting, this interaction, this day—off your shoulders and placing it on the shoulders of the entity you’ve chosen. They’re in charge now.
  • Visually lift it off your shoulders and feel the difference as you are now no longer responsible for the outcome of any of these things. Everything is taken care of. You can sit back, relax, and enjoy whatever good you can find along the way.

Want more on writing? Download Signature’s 2017 Ultimate Writing Guide