Ten Tips for Getting Back on Track
You know yourself and your habits better than anyone else. If there's a tip or technique that has worked for you in the past when trying to get back on track, you should definitely stick with it. For instance, if you're the type of person who can spend a day eating Haagen-Dazs ice cream and then feel right as rain, then by all means dive into that pint of Macadamia Brittle or Vanilla Swiss Almond.
On the other hand, if boredom, loneliness, and writer's block are new to you, then you might not know exactly what to do to jolt your system back into gear. Following are ten solid tips that many magazine writers say work for them. Hopefully, one of them will work for you, too.
Write Something Different
Taking a break from a style or topic of writing can sometimes be just the thing you need. If all you write is nonfiction articles, for instance, then consider taking a day or two to write poems or start work on a screenplay. The mere act of having to think about words and characters and phrases differently can sometimes be enough to get your creative juices flowing again. And hey, you never know about that screenplay — it could be the best new writing Hollywood has seen in years.
It's important to really change up your writing style and focus once in a while, if only to keep your writing from becoming monotonous. For instance, if you write regularly about the food-and-beverage industry, consider spending a day writing about the process of bookbinding or the life of a famous forefather. Truly go off in a new direction.
Read Something Different
Reading is an excellent diversion for writers, if only because you still feel as though you're contributing to your skills while in fact you are relaxing and letting another writer carry you away in thought. If you're already an eclectic reader with shelves full of fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, and more, then you're ahead of the game. However, if you tend to read only one kind of book — say, political nonfiction from the bestseller lists — then you may start to feel that taking a break to read is more like taking a break to read the same old thing.
That's not conducive to helping you stave off feelings of loneliness and boredom. Change things up and grab a trashy summer novel or even a business how-to book once in a while. The different patter of language will push your brain in new and unique directions, and you may even get some ideas for pitching articles to magazines other than your usual clients.
Read an Old Favorite
All writers have favorite classic authors, be they Sylvia Plath or Charles Dickens or Truman Capote. Sometimes, reuniting with a favorite book by a favorite author can feel like getting together with an old friend — something that almost always warms the soul and helps you to feel better.
Classic novels and narrative nonfiction works have made a comeback in the publishing industry in recent years. Even if you don't own a copy of a favorite classic such as The Scarlet Letter or Little Women, you can usually find it on the bookshelves at your local bookstore (or of course online at Amazon.com).
Give Yourself a Mini-Vacation
You've read a lot in this chapter about the importance of taking vacations, but you don't have to go far in order to enjoy a getaway on a miniature scale. Sometimes, an hour-long bubble bath or a longer-than-usual lunch out on the front lawn is all you will need to kick-start your writing abilities. When you think vacation, don't always think “getaway.” Sometimes, you just need an hour away from your e-mail inbox to help regain your sanity.
Give Yourself a Deadline
If you're not the type to go tiptoeing through the tulips in search of yourself, then go 180 degrees in the opposite direction and add
You've probably heard more than your share in recent years about how important regular exercise is to your health. Whether you already pound the treadmill daily or you consider reaching for the television remote to be a form of stretching, you can change or increase your exercise routine as a way of breaking out of the writing doldrums.
Why does exercise help to relieve writer's block?
Exercising causes your body to release endorphins, which are molecules your body secretes into your bloodstream. They bind to receptors the same way drugs like morphine do, thus creating an analgesic effect that lifts your mood. If you're in a better mood, you're more likely to want to start writing again.
Exercise doesn't have to be difficult or boring. In fact, it doesn't even have to be in a gym at all. You can decide to play instead.
Playing is the oldest form of exercise in history, and you probably have plenty of playmates around just waiting for you to decide to join them. Kids, dogs, friends, neighbors, relatives — give your brain a break by thinking about who might be a good playmate, whether for a game of racquetball or a round of fetch. When you play, your body will release endorphins just as it would during a session of exercise, only your brain will sense less structure to the activity and perhaps relax even more.
Know how kids are always smiling? And how dogs always seem content? It's because they make time to play. Follow their example from time to time, and you'll be just as happy.
Watch a Good Movie
Okay, so it's not politically correct these days to advocate plopping down in front of the television or in a seat at the movie theater. Still, watching a good film with a big bucket of buttery popcorn can be downright therapeutic. The storyline will literally take your mind away from whatever has caused it to fade into neutral, and the mere act of having to sit still to watch the scenes will by definition break up your routine of writing, e-mailing, and doing interviews.
If you decide to watch a movie as a respite, make sure it's a good one. There's nothing worse than wasting a couple of hours on a film that has bad dialogue, horrible special effects, and lousy actors. Remember, your goal here isn't to kill time by watching the movie. It's to become engrossed in the plot and characters, to take yourself away from reality.
Don't feel guilty about pulling out an old favorite and popping it into the DVD player, no matter how cheesy it is or how well you already know the lines by heart. If you enjoy watching it, the movie will serve its purpose and, hopefully, break you out of your writing slump.
Cooking has long been a way for people to reconnect with reality. The basic act of chopping a pepper or dicing a tomato forces you to concentrate, lest you lose a finger, and the tastes those vegetables and other freshly prepared foods provide create an instant reaction in your body that makes you think about nothing else.
Even if your primary recipes usually include defrosting frozen pizzas and microwaving meals, take an afternoon to prepare a dish from scratch, and then savor every bite while you eat it. Simply follow the instructions in a recipe that doesn't look too hard — maybe one requiring twenty minutes' worth of preparation time — and you should end up with something that's not only delicious to eat, but also satisfying in that you will have created it out of nothing.
If you want to find easy-to-follow recipes, forget about fashionable celebrity cookbooks and stick with an old standard such as
Remember: The goal here is not to create your first seven-course tasting menu at home. The goal is to take your mind off your day-to-day routine for a while. Choose a recipe that won't leave you hurling knives across the kitchen in frustration, no matter how skilled a cook you already are.
Go See What a Real Job Looks Like
The one tried-and-true way to get back on track as a magazine writer is to go to your local shopping mall, or the nearest Starbucks, or your regular grocery store. Only instead of being a shopper, as you usually are, spend some time watching the cashiers and counter attendants and butchers.
Watch them as they hustle around on their sore feet all day long, smiling at customers who don't always smile back and listening to the same Muzak playing in the background again and again. Look up and see the fluorescent lights that beam into their eyes day and night, and pay attention to the actual jobs they get paid to do, be it hanging clothes on racks or frothing lattes or determining the proper SKU number for a bag of fresh parsnips.
Nine times out of ten, you'll find yourself saying something like, “Being a magazine writer sure beats this.” And then you'll be on your way back home, happy with the career choice you've made and eager to keep working hard in order to pay your bills by writing articles.