I’ll let you in on a secret… even though I write all day every day, there are times when I sit down to write, hands over the keyboard, clean blank page in front of me – and nothing comes.
Labelling it ‘writer’s block’ only takes away the responsibility to do something about it by putting it down to some mysterious outside force. I prefer to think that my creative muscles just need to be warmed up.
If you’ve ever done a boot camp or fitness group (ouch, more on that later), you’ll know that working out strengthens your body muscles. And there’s a lot you can do to train your mind muscles to be more creative. So here are a few drills to run through in my very own writers bootcamp.
Set aside time to write. Just like you make time to work out, block off a certain amount of time each day or week to write. And then sit down and do it – no excuses. Put your phone on silent and log out of social media. The more you do it the easier it gets, as your brain becomes used to this undisturbed writing time.
Start with something fun. If you’re finding it hard to get into the groove, start your session with something fun, easy and pressure-free. You could have an ongoing story (or ebook!) that you add a paragraph to each day, or a simple 100-word writing prompt. This is like a stretching session for your brain – ten minutes or so of warm-up before you get started on the ‘real’ work.
Try out the tools. Like gym equipment, writers have tools to help them flex those creative muscles. The simplest is the writer’s notebook. It doesn’t have to be a literal notebook – you could use the notes section on your phone, an app like Evernote, or a stack of post-it notes. The important thing is that you write down every idea you have, however half-formed, as soon as you have it.
And for when you have a bit more time up your sleeve, there’s the humble mind map. This is a great visual tool for organising and connecting your thoughts – there are plenty of online apps, but I think there’s something to be said for drawing it by hand.
Just do it. This is a tried and tested writing exercise used by all kinds of writers. Give yourself a time limit – say ten minutes to start with – and start writing. Write whatever comes into your head; the important thing is that you don’t stop. You may start out writing nonsense (‘blah blah blah why am I doing this’ is a perfectly acceptable starting point!) but eventually, your brain will get bored and focus properly.
Force your brain to think in new ways. You know how strange (and painful) it feels when you work out a muscle group you didn’t even know you had? (Hello, glutes.) You can do the same thing with your brain!
Have a strong opinion about something? Try to put forward a case for the opposing side. Or open any book or magazine and point to three random words, and then try to turn them into a blog post. And if it turns out to be good, you may have just found your next topic.
Get a coach. A lot of these exercises are about just getting things down on paper. Just like any exercise is better than no exercise, this is a great starting point.
But if you really want to get fitter and stronger, taking a gym class or booking a personal coaching session can help you perfect your technique and reach your potential.
It’s the same with writing. A writing coach can help you identify what you want to achieve, give you honest and insightful feedback, help you overcome challenges, and guide you to reach your goals.