Conquering Writing Challenges: Writer’s Block and Rhythm

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Bobbi 2016by Barbara Florio Graham

This is the fourth of five articles about how you can increase your creativity to achieve your goals. It is best to read these in order beginning with the introduction, which appeared in the Fall 2015 Byline (quarterly newsletter of the National Capital Branch of the Canadian Authors’ Association). Each article deals with a different concept.

These articles are not structured the same as the online course I teach. Do consider taking that tutorial, which is customized for you, with specific comments on assignments. I offer it on a flexible schedule, to suit your busy life. Go to my website to see the full description and testimonials.

This time I’m going to address specific challenges many writers face.

1. Dealing with writer’s block.

There are several ways to trick your brain into increasing synapses between the right and left sides. These techniques are useful not just for helping to generate ideas, but also to help with minor memory problems.

If you’ve already tried the obvious ones (going outside for a run or taking a shower), try a couple of these:

Do any exercise that requires you to move your arms across your midsection. Reaching your right arm to your left shoulder or chest while your left arm touches your right side helps your brain to do the same thing. This can be part of an exercise routine or can simply be done at your desk.

You can continue this by touching your fingers to the opposite feet when you are standing or sitting. As you do this, visualize (as a picture or diagram) the problem you want to solve, using no words. Having instrumental music playing can help with this exercise.

Some silly things can also help. Wear your watch upside down, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, walk upstairs backward (hold onto the railing!), wear mismatched clothes around the house, or even wear a piece of clothing backward.

New research suggests that when your brain is a bit tired, left-brain work is more difficult, and you will be less effective at keeping out distracting information, which is what you need in order to have an insight. So maybe you need to tackle any writers’ block at the end of the day, instead of when you normally do your best work.

I happen to be a night person, so I always schedule routine things in the morning, heavy research or important tasks in the afternoon, and keep a pen and pad beside my recliner in the evening. I often get ideas for articles at the end of the day, and have written many prize-winning poems in the shower I take at night!

Because I go to bed late and sometimes can’t turn off my brain when I try to get to sleep, I make sure that if I find the solution to a problem or figure out how to start a piece of writing while I’m in bed, I dictate it into the tape recorder I keep by my bed.

You can use all kinds of tricks if you want to remember an idea that strikes you while you’re falling asleep. One I use often is to toss something from my bedside table onto the bedroom floor. When I wake up in the morning, the item from my bedside table helps me recall what I wanted to remember.

Some routine activities like driving give your right brain a chance to activate, because your left brain is busy looking right, left, ahead, and into the rearview mirror. I keep a small pad and pencil in my car visor so I can scribble notes when I stop at a light.

2. Finding sufficient variety in your style so that everything doesn’t sound the same.

Toddlers do something you probably did as a child. Remember banging on pots and pans with kitchen utensils? I recall marching around the dining room table with my toy drum, drumming to the beat of the march that introduced my mother’s favorite radio program.

Drumming is a very effective way to establish or change the rhythm of your writing. Many successful authors write with earphones delivering jazz riffs to their ears. The advantage of jazz is that the rhythms are often varied, with a slow tempo in one piece, then a blazing tumble of notes in the next.

Improvise your own percussion instruments. If you don’t have metal pot lids you’re willing to bang on, pick up a few at a dollar store. Worn or stained wooden spoons or plastic spatulas can substitute for drum sticks, or use wooden or plastic rulers, pencils, or sticks.

Use a whisk or a fly swatter as a brush on your improvised drum or cymbal. Employ wind chimes, bells from your Christmas decorations, and a wooden box to simulate a wood block.

Vary the rhythms, including marches, three-beat waltz tempo, a quickstep or fox trot, a tango, cha-cha, or samba. Read passages aloud to the drumbeats and see what happens!


Barbara Florio Graham is an award-winning author, publishing consultant, and marketing strategist. Her popular workshop on creativity has won accolades from participants all over the world, and is now taught as an online tutorial. See the wealth of free information on her website: SimonTeakettle.com.

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