Writer…Uninterrupted – take a walk

This summer I worked on the second draft to my story. Then I went away to Texas for a family reunion. I didn’t bring my story with me for various reasons. However, when I returned to the novel I had trouble.

I struggled to get excited about the plot or the characters. I had to push myself to work at it daily. Writing that novel was the last thing I wanted to do in life.

It wasn’t until I was taking a walk, simply pondering the story, letting my muse frolic, that I had my breakthrough. Immediately my writer’s senses returned to normal, and I was eager to get back to the computer. From that point, I was able to write scenes that had purpose. Give characters a reason to be on the page.

Writing can happen inside your head, without you actively transferring the ideas onto paper or screen. In fact, this blessed opportunity I call Discovery, what others might call brainstorming, is often rich with fresh, unique ideas. Agatha Christie once said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

I think it’s because our muse is allowed to run free, unhindered by our less swift fingers on the keyboard or paper. There is a certain rush when story ideas breeze through your imagination–anything is possible at that point. Your story can really happen. You truly are a writer.

I was once at a workshop where the instructor actually advised against this kind of storycrafting. Insisting that true writing can only take place when a writer is engaged via notebook or laptop, that when it’s time to write, you must actively write for it to count.

No. That is terrible advice. That’s like saying ideas that formulate in your imagination before you have a chance to scribble them down don’t count, that it’s not writing.

Imagining is writing. Stories start in our daydreams. Sometimes all we get are mere wisps. Other times a shadow where time has stopped. Could be a sequence of action scenes or a montage of characters in pain or awakening. Whatever the form, that is the first breath. The next breath is when the story spills from the inner container known as your imagination to an outer container, be it paper, computer, or recording device.

Every moment spent thereafter is another breath of life for your story.

If writing a story feels like you’re bleeding the words, then press PAUSE on everything, and step away from the project for a little while. Allow your mind to wander on anything it chooses. Surrender to the peace of reconnecting your imagination to your story. You may only need ten minutes away or the rest of the day. Keep it positive–don’t abandon the writing in a frustrated huff. Simply tell yourself you’re engaging in some self-care for the time being and that you’ll be back to the project when you’re feeling refreshed.

Wash dishes, take a walk, weed the garden, swim — these are just a few examples of rote activities that are awesome remedies for mental blocks. Not just for writing, but for any time when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unproductive. With rote activities you don’t have to concentrate on the task. Your muse roams freely and uncensored. There is no pressure to perform. Your Inner Critic also tends to quiet down, too.

When you’re actively writing, sometimes your logical mind intimidates your muse. Then your inner critic jumps into the fray and all hell breaks loose. You’re blocked.

Yes, it’s important to stay engaged with your story on a regular basis to keep moving forward. Just remember, giving your muse a chance to work from a pressure-free zone helps to work through snags.

What do you do to free writing blocks?

Have a writerly day!


0 thoughts on “Writer…Uninterrupted – take a walk”

  1. I often have brainwaves in the shower, or doing the dishes. And I think what you say is very true…our muse needs the freedom to roam – without being judged! There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, too, I’m sure 🙂

    • Yes, the shower is an awesome place to help get ideas flowing. I think you’re right about the life lesson. Of course, writers are great mouthpieces for life lessons. 😉

  2. Funny, like Alarna, I often have breakthroughs in the shower or while doing dishes. It’s either the soothing nature of water, or the fact that it’s easy to switch off in those instances. Generally I have several projects going on at once, though. So if I do get stuck, I bounce to another. That sometimes helps.

    • It is so easy to zone out in the shower or doing household chores. I envy anyone who can bounce from one project to another. I have tried to do that, especially in instances like you describe, and I find that it’s difficult for me to switch gears in the midst of projects. I think when you can do that successfully, it is a great way to get away from the snag of one project but still stay immersed in the act of writing in another project.

  3. Well, there’s just something about water—showers and dishes are when my Muse is most likely to drop ideas and breakthroughs on me. And while working out—that’s another favorite time for her. After good progress last month for my PerNoReMo, December has been a bust for writing. In part that’s because work always gets busy, and I don’t always have the energy for the WIPs in my free time. Partly, it’s these dark, short days. But a lot of it is trying to force the story ideas onto the page when they aren’t ready.

    In the past, I would’ve turned to the other WIP. But I’m afraid I’d be using it as a crutch to avoid the “hard” work on the other story. And then I’d be forever bouncing between two unfinished works. So I’m trying to only write down the ideas on the second one and not formally start its rebuild. I’m doing my best to view December here as a “fallow period,” as Andrea Stephenson wrote in one of her posts, and let my Muse and characters have a bit of a break if they need it. And then hopefully I’m not writing too much junk that needs to be rebuilt again!

    • This time of year is difficult for me because there are so many family-related events going on. Not just with the holidays, but there are six family members who have birthdays in either December or January. Even though I do my wriitng at 4am, I am so exhausted from having to do extra Life/Family stuff that it is difficult to concentrate fully on my story.

      I like what you say about using another WIP as a crutch, and avoiding the hard work. What wonderful insight, JM. I have never been able to switch from one WIP to another unless I’m in a clear transitional period (between drafts, for instance). But I wonder if subconsciously I had difficulty turning from one to the other because in a sense it is like giving up when things get too hard. I have given up on writing too many times in my life to ever want to come close to it now!

      I love Andrea’s perspective — a good, positive way to think about our progress.

  4. Interesting, in the shower is where I often get writing inspiration too! I actually really struggle to force myself to work on something if it’s not flowing, but funnily enough I heard something on the radio a few weeks ago that kind of helped unexpectedly – an author was being interviewed and was asked how they deal with it if they ever get writer’s block, and she said, “I just say to myself – oh get over yourself! Electricians don’t get electrician’s block, gardeners don’t get gardener’s block, why should your profession have the luxury of a block as an excuse?” It kind of actually did help when I was feeling blocked with writing a press release at work last week and thought about what she’d said!

    • That is an interesting way of looking at it. The only argument I would have to that perspective is that all creative types suffer from blocks in one form or another because there is no “right way” to get the job done. It is a subjective profession. We just have to do it, and hope that people like what we did.

      Having said that, I think that whatever we can do to get ourselves through the quagmire is necessary. The longer we stay stuck, the worse it gets.

  5. I’ve been amazed by how much clarity I find through walking. I’ve drafted many a scene or blog post in my head while out for a long walk. I consider this part of the writing process, and even if I don’t get more than 100 words written that day, the mental ‘writing’ I did still contributes to my progress.

    • I wish I could get more “writing walks” in. Usually, I am with one or both of my kids, and so there isn’t the opportunity to really mull over my work. But when I’m alone, my head is totally flipping through scenes, characters, subplots. I agree that mental writing is just as important as physical writing–as long as we can actually remember what we thought of when it comes time to sit and write it all down!

  6. Often, my best ideas are on a morning run. I am often annoyed that there isn’t a huge tablet in the sky recording my thoughts – perhaps a 2014 invention? Glad you got your groove back and Merry Christmas!

  7. It is rare that a day goes by where I don’t think about my WIP. Even on crazy busy days I have a commute or drive where my mind is free to wander through the plot. Taking a walk or drive is usually just the ticket to get past a trouble spot.

    • Driving is a big one, actually. Although we should be 100% focused on our driving, I have to admit that when I’m on a very familiar route I will let my mind wander around my WIP. 🙂 Shh, don’t tell my mother!

    • Hi Coleen,
      It isn’t often that I get stuck. Much of what is behind the block is fear, but I have found when I ignore the fear and pay attention to another reason why I’m stuck the fear isn’t as strong. I think the fear acts up most when I recognize it and pay it attention. Like a badly behaved child.

  8. And my husband asks me why I take so long in the shower…! 😉

    You hit on a good point, Kate. Our relaxed brains always seem to be much better at coalescing ideas than when we force them. We can force them, but the result usually ends up needing more work in the long run. Not that the push isn’t necessary, at times. I’ve told more than one student or friend, “Just finish. Even if it’s crap, it’s finished. You can always go back and edit.” But, boy, I know well that feeling of being bullied into a writing corner. It does no good to try and bully myself out of it again with a forced writing session, either.

    Glad to hear you managed to pull through your slow-up with some fresh ideas. That’s always a great feeling, and I relish it. 🙂

    • Oh, I love my showers, too! A great time to socialize with my characters. Finishing is a huge goal that we all need to achieve, no matter the quality. The advice you give is smart — and I think that the more often we complete a task, the stronger and more skilled we get. Quality comes from fine-tuning anyway.

      I didn’t like the feeling of not enjoying my story. I started to panic that it’s no good and that I’d wasted all that time on the rough and first drafts. It’s not a good place for a writer to be.

  9. I’ve been outlining for about 5 weeks. Every time I hit a block, I go do laundry or work out or take the dogs out. The second I walk away and work on a physical activity, my mind plays with the storyworld and a solution pops up. Thank goodness, I take my phone outside. Some of the best insights come while playing ball with the dogs. 😉

    • It’s helpful to be able to walk away and distract your writing self. Overthinking can make a bad problem worse. Because I do my writing at 4am, I don’t have a lot of options at hand when I need to take a break! I don’t know if the neighbors would appreciate me playing outside with my dog at that hour. 😉

      • LOL. That’s true. Maybe when you’re working out you can actively think about the story and jot down solutions so when you are at the keyboard you are just typing and not having to think things through?

    • I think that it’s a fine line, though. Too often, stepping away turns into a long vacation and then there is little chance of wanting to revisit that novel. We always have to remember what we like/love about the story and why we need to keep working on it.

      I’m sorry I missed your virtual book launch. How did it go? Would you ever do something like that again?

    • That’s a wonderful idea, Jilanne. Reading a book, or even a quote, is a great way to remind us why we’re writers to begin with, and that we purposely signed up for this roller coaster ride. 🙂

  10. I know that feeling well – it was earlier this year that I accepted that active writing doesn’t always involve typing, and I’ve been happier and more productive since. I find that the mindlessness of working out often kicks me back into gear – to the point that I’m famous at my gym for suddenly squealing and running out of classes when something brilliant occurs to me… !

    • When my kids were younger and I had a bit more time on my hands, I used to think/daydream about my story a lot more often and I found that writing was easier when I could do that. Taking a walk by myself is a blessing, and I use the time wisely!

      I love the image of you squealing in the gym because you discovered something fun and new to write for your story. I guess that’s a good place for you to gather ideas! 🙂

      Thanks for swinging by.

  11. Your question at the end there made me laugh. Sometimes I stop writing for a while or I’ll work on a different writing project. Then when I go back to the novel or whatever, I’ll reread it and as long as there’s been enough of a break, I don’t hate it as much. 🙂 Walking outdoors and reading always helps too.

    • I know. I thought twice about that sentence, but I kept coming back to the lessons I learned in NaNoWriMo — that even if the story was terrible to just keep putting down words. Reach the finish line, whether it be 50,000 words or whatever. We can always go back and edit. But it’s that bad feeling that goes along with it, the feeling that you can’t write worth a damn. That’s harder to combat than any writing goal.

      It’s funny how our perspective changes when we take some time away. As long as we come back to it with some hope, then we usually can continue with the story in a positive march forward.

  12. It’s a terribly awkward balancing act we writers have to pull off Kate. Inion & I have two of those opinionated muses that are highly temperamental. Mine likes to hold my creativity & writing hostage until she decides she’s had enough payback!! LOL. I try not to tick her off for fear of how long the stint will be. Glad to hear yours finally cooperated!! Merry Christmas to you & yours.

    • Wrangling my muse seems to be a regular challenge. Luckily I love writing enough that I am willing to find a way that works, even if it means I have to switch it up every day. 🙂

      Merry Christmas to you as well!

  13. I never thought about it this way, but you’re absolutely right. To remain involved with the story I’m working on, if not actively writing. See, to me it has always been one or the other. I’m writing it or I’m not writing it. And you’re right, there is an inner conflict that arises when I am in flux, so to speak. But to remain involved in the work, it never occurred to me. I’m going to try this. Thank you!

    • For a long time, I thought I had to be actively writing to say that I’m working on a project. Then I realized half of my ideas I get when I’m away from the project make it onto the paper or screen. I also find that those ideas are less restrained, which makes for better fiction.

      Let me know how it goes if you try it.

  14. with some writers (do not include myself as more of a jotter) it’s a problem of commitment – as soon as the groove is made, the author wishes to escape. The rote activites must surely help -free wheeling instead of running in the opposite direction. Very thought series of posts – thank you

  15. I seem to write better under a bit of pressure – not a lot – that stumps me entirely, but a little.
    I, normally, get stuck when I try to write every day – I need the break and the difference, I guess. I have never been very structured – that’s part of it, I think.
    Glad you found what works for you,

    • I love hearing from writers who say that writing every day doesn’t always help them. Out of all the writing “rules” out there, that seems to be the top one from the pros. Your comment proves that there is no one method, and that we all need to go through a bit of trial and error before we can find our rhythm. Then we write the next book, and we have to start all over again. 😉

      • That is as true as anything I have read.
        “Carolyn” may yet be a book, but it is look to be more like a novella or novelette depending on the word count. It is around 5800 words after tonight and I don’t see the end yet – neither does Carolyn. But, I can’t write here every night – it just doesn’t work for me.

  16. I enjoyed this post and agree with what you say about staying engaged with the story. This is especially important for me to keep in mind because I’m not writing everyday.

    To answer the question you raised, I think writing when I don’t have anything in particular to say makes me miserable. I end up with a bunch of extra files and documents I don’t need making it harder to sift through everything to find the ideas and stories that excite me. My hubby and I love card games (board games too) and one thing I’ve learned from some of our deck building games is that getting rid of unnecessary cards makes the entire deck stronger. So I applied this lesson to my writing docs by deleting files I didn’t need and had no intention of developing. This has made the files/ideas I’ve kept seem more manageable and I feel excited again.

    • I love this: “I think writing when I don’t have anything in particular to say makes me miserable. I end up with a bunch of extra files and documents I don’t need…” I feel that way when it comes to blogging! I lost count of how many half-posts I have in my blogging file on my computer. I feel like I have to post something, so I force it and I end up hating the post and trashing it.

      I like your bravery, too, when it comes to being able to delete files you know you don’t need. I have not been able to fully reach that level of confidence. There is always that niggling feeling, ‘what if I need it in another story?’ Therefore, this particular “Little Darlings” folder is quite hefty! 😉

  17. Just wanted to wave hello and wish you a Happy New Year! After taking some time off blogging, to finish my next novel, I’m back at it. Enjoyed your post. I don’t write everyday, I write in spurts and seasons — as evidenced by writing the first draft of this novel for NaNoWriMo in 2011, then finally finishing it in November 2013. Oh well, better late than never, LOL!

    • Hi Nancy, so good to see you this way. I think choosing your book over blogging is reasonable and wise. Too many writers choose the opposite. Here’s to an even more productive 2014!

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