Creativity can be a blessing and a curse. Riding the wave of inspiration can feel like the most glorious sensation in the world. However, when inspiration wanes and the work becomes more an exercise in brute force, it can be difficult to push on and continue being productive.
It’s not a secret that being a freelance writer requires something akin to a monk’s caliber of self-discipline. However, even the most disciplined writer is prone to moments of slacking. As writer John R. Perry describes in his book The Art of Procrastination, it’s possible to develop habits that will inspire you to work again by enhancing your mental stamina and imagination. On the other hand, there are some common habits that will only serve to deaden the senses and keep you even further from meeting your deadlines.
Here are some habits to avoid when you’re blocked:
1. Watching television
As American writer Gene Fowler once stated, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” With all that mental stress and concentration, it can be very tempting to turn off the brain for a while and turn on the television. Don’t do it.
There are enough studies that have proven that watching television lowers intellect, dulls the senses and even impairs the metabolic system. According to a study published by professors at Tohoku University in Japan, it’s even been held responsible for producing brain damage in children. So, come on, put the remote down. There’s nothing for you there.
2. Surfing the internet
In this age of digital technology, with constant status updates and tweets providing a never-ending source of news and entertainment, many writers (like George RR Martin and Zadie Smith) have opted to chop temptation off at the knees by writing on computers that have no access to the internet. Writing and staying motivated to write are hard enough tasks, without adding to it the task of self-monitoring your internet addiction. Take advice from the experts and get rid of the internet while you’re writing.
3. Don’t allow interruptions
Zadie Smith advises “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” And Susan Sontag claims, “One can never be alone enough to write.”
Whether you realize it or not, taking a phone call from a friend or spouse, replying to an email, or attending to your children all take you out of the mental space you’ve created for your writing. It’s hard enough to create that space in the first place. Harder still to get back in once you’ve left it for the noble task of scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed (see rule #2).
Clutter can be as much a temptation as the Internet. When you sit down to write and the mind starts to wander, it will find any excuse not to write, including cleaning up clutter. Before you know it, you may not only have cleaned up your study but set about defrosting the freezer or degreasing the floor under the stove (which hadn’t been done since you moved in). And there’s nothing wrong with that besides the timing and motivation for doing it which is to put off writing.
Many writers create a ritual where they prepare their space for work before sitting down to write: removing clutter, sharpening pencils, putting on some classical music. Find anything that works for you. Friedrich Schiller kept a drawer full of rotten apples that he claimed inspired him. Collette picked fleas off of her dog and hunted them around the room until she was inspired to write. Alexandre Dumas had a rigorous color-coded system where he wrote his poetry on yellow paper, fiction on blue paper, and articles on pink. Woody Allen used to write while standing up in the subway in New York. Whatever works.
5. Don’t be a perfectionist
As Anne Lamott puts it in not so mild terms, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.” Everyone wants to do well and get it right. But perfectionism rarely leads to good work, and most often leads to the abandonment of potentially wonderful work. Just get the words out. You can change them later.
Don’t try so much to control the flow, otherwise you’ll end up strangling it completely. Every word you write is practice. By censoring and editing before there’s even something to censor or edit, you’re not only failing to write but depriving yourself of the practice you need to write well.
There you have humble advice of professional writers to get you creating and keep you creative. Use it well and good luck!