When it Comes to Writer’s Block, Sleep On It

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For writers it is like a mantra.  In order to write, you must to take the time, sit down, and do it.

BIC HOK TAM, right?

Well, it’s true.  There are no short cuts. Magic formulas are available for purchase, but on the whole, they don’t really work.  Call me a cynic.

Writing takes an enormous amount of time and dedication.  Most writers will tell you that struggle ranks high in the job description, or as sportswriter Red Smith said:

There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

But what happens when you’ve opened a vein (or 3 or 4) and you’ve still got nothing?  What do you do when even those special prompts saved for desperate moments like this fail you?

My solution?  Take a nap.  Read a book.  Make Rice Krispie treats.  Do anything but write, because your creatively clogged brain is trying to telling you that it needs some time for itself.

When I need to get away from writing, my favorite diversion is napping, and I’m happy to say I’ve got science on my side.

A study by researchers at UCSD found that REM sleep was 40% more effective than the simple passing of time or quiet rest to enhance creativity, in particular for new problems. (1)

During a time when I wasn’t writing anything more than memos at work, my current WIP, a novel now titled For Purple Mountains, came to me in a dream.  It was far from complete, but it intrigued me enough to get me writing again.  Two years later, I’m still at it … happily … most of the time.

Other sleep-induced inspirations include:

  • The tune for Yesterday, which came to Paul McCartney in his sleep.  (If you watch that video, let me know if you agree that Paul is so adorable!)
  • Golfer Jack Nicklaus’ whose career was crumbling.  In a dream he saw himself holding the club differently.  When he tried the new grip later, his game improved dramatically and he was back on top again.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde, which was plotted in a dream by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Mary Shelley, who is said to have been inspired by a dream to create Frankenstein.

Of course, these are big, definitive examples, but how many of us have woken up with a solution to a problem that at one time seemed unsolvable?

Sleep or otherwise walking away from your writing, isn’t always the solution because if you’ve committed any serious time to writing, you know it doesn’t always flow, and sometimes you just have to give it time.  But for those excruciating moments, when you know you’re completely stuck, walk away.  Then, when you’re rested, go back to your writing and open up another vein.

Join The Silent Writers Collective on Tuesdays at 9 PM Eastern and/or 9 PM Pacific (US) for the next Silent Write-In.

For a basic Rice Krispie Treat recipe, try Cooking for Engineers, one of my favorite recipe sites.  It’s quirky, with a touch of OCD and every recipe I’ve used from the site comes out perfectly.
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7 thoughts on “When it Comes to Writer’s Block, Sleep On It

  1. My favorite uncloggers?

    1. Housework. Especially something menial like scrubbing the bathroom

    2. Taking a shower. Yeah, the old standby. BEST ideas I ever had were in the shower

    3. Going for a walk. Excercise + ipod + visual stimuli =muse.

    Good post. I agree. You can’t force it sometimes.

  2. I would really benefit from giving myself more space away from writing in order to let the ideas develop. The old standby of taking a shower works for me too, as does being by the sea. Looking forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

  3. I read that research news yesterday Olivia, and found myself wishing I could nap during the day. I always wake up with a headache, so I avoid napping, (though I do have several medical problems that are probably the culprit).

    However, I have had great ideas come to me in dreams when I sleep at night. One time I was arguing with my MC in a dream – she kept telling me to tell her story and I kept telling her I didn’t know what it was. I actually sat bolt upright in bed and screamed, “I don’t know what you want!” It was then my husband made me stop working on that novel – he was scared. That’s been years ago, and I am writing a novel now, but it’s not “hers”. I still have that one in the back of my mind, but I don’t believe it will be written until years down the road, at least not until I get the current one finished.

    I have dreamed an entire Fridayflash more than once.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  4. Hi Olivia,

    I do get the occasional nap in – helps me last longer in the eve.

    My dreams have been really dumb and not useful lately. I mentioned to hubby that I think I got the wires crossed in the dream world and am dreaming someone else’s dreams.

    I have gotten ideas and storylines from dreams, and I believe we can use them.

    Now someone hook me up to the good ones the rest of the week!

  5. Lucky people who have awakened from dreaming a story. I know I must dream but never remember anything.

    Don’t really take naps during the day, but maybe that’s something to try.

    Whenever I go walking I may think of a title or a sentence or a character. But not a full story.

    Eh. Writing IS hard! 😀

  6. Napping is my personal favorite, but sometimes it’s just not possible or it’s a bad idea. I can take 3-4 hour naps! Some of the creative uncloggers you all share here are great ideas, particularly Josie’s looking at the sea. How I wish, but in Arizona there’s no chance of that. I’ll live by the sea again one day though.

    Thanks for sharing all your ideas. Now maybe if I go take a nap and a shower, do some housework, and go for a run, I’ll break through the writer’s block that’s been plaguing me.

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