Writer’s block. The dreaded barrier that everyone who has tried to write knows, reliably hits. Writer’s block comes with the territory of being a writer. But if you want to reduce writer’s block, exercise your creative muscle every day.
Sometimes, writer’s block feels more like writer’s mud—you feel sluggish as you plug along. Annoying, yes, but hey, at least you’re still writing! The real issue happens when writer’s block takes the wheel, and you lose momentum to the point that you quit on your project.
I’ve done it. Lots of times. And I know a lot of other writers like me.
Here’s What Happens with Writer’s Block for Me
I get excited about a concept, dive into it, and truck on until that voice in my head starts screaming: “This is terrible! Who would want to read this!?”
It’s difficult to stop that voice once it starts. But it’s possible.
I’ve been a writer since the moment I knew how to form words into sentences. Just ask my mother: I self-published my first book when I was five years-old—a collection of pastel scribbles with one-sentence captions. (Truly a coveted masterpiece—don’t even bother trying to find it on Goodreads.) I went to a fancy-pantsy arts magnet school in Denver, CO, from 6th grade to 12th grade, where I majored in Creative Writing. Meaning, I spent most every day of my young life writing, or at least thinking about what I might write next.
In those seven years, I produced some complete products. But all of them were short form—flash fiction pieces. Each came out as a near-perfect first draft from one burst of creative energy. After maybe a couple rounds of edits, voila, put a bow on it and call it good.
I was really good at those pieces. Anything longer though? I would have rather been raked over a bed of hot coals. I think in all seven years, I maybe finished one complete short story, and I did that in 7th grade. The one exception was an 80-page novella I had to write in order to pass the departmental requirement for 10th grade, but it was far from a complete piece, and let’s face it, it was pretty terrible.
Here’s Another Shameful Confession:
I was never a big reader growing up. My brother was the type of kid that always had a five hundred plus page book tucked under his arm. I liked literature; I just never had the patience to finish reading a whole book. I’m ashamed to admit this trend continued through college. However, I do have some forgiveness for myself on that one—I read a lot in college, just not for fun.
Flash cut to: the COVID pandemic.
It hit us right at the tail end of my senior year of college. I had to move home and quarantine with my mom. I was bored out of my mind. The world has stopped—and I had to decide what I would do with the seemingly endless hours of uninterrupted nothing. If I was to be able to feel like a normal human being, I didn’t just need something to fill the time, I also needed structure.
Oh Hey, Books Are a Thing!
I started a habit of reading every morning. First thing when I woke up, I read for a couple hours, at least. Sometimes more because I had nothing else going on.
I had no idea the hidden benefits that would come from that small act.
Turns out, ever since my sophomore year of high school, that novel concept that I thought I had tossed away, had actually been percolating in the back of my mind. The plot, the characters, the world, had been growing on the outskirts of my consciousness. I didn’t even realize it. But in the back of my mind, I was constantly improving the novel—fleshing out details and critiquing my approach to the writing (whose perspective I wrote it in, which character’s storyline was unnecessary, how I described the world, what my themes were, etc. etc.)
Although I think there are a lot of different ways to be a writer, I’ve personally found a lot of truth to the saying that you have to read to write. My morning reading routine exercised my creative muscle. It made me think about words, about the art of writing, and it had an effect on my subconscious. It gave me traction—even more than that, it gave me a backlog of traction.
One day, on a whim, I decided to rewrite the first chapter of my novel from sophomore year. I didn’t look back to the first draft, I just sat down and wrote. All that traction I had been saving up by exercising my creative muscle every morning for a year took hold, and four months later, I had written a complete manuscript. 42 chapters. 464 pages. 128,798 words. And I never ran out of steam, lost interest, or had writer’s block.
I Exercise My Creative Muscle Every Day
I believe the reason is because for most of 2020 and 2021, I exercised my creative muscle every day. I’d gotten in the habit of reading, and thinking about words on a daily basis. And since I’d already carved out the time in my schedule, I was able to simply pivot that time from reading and reflection to writing.
I will admit: I still have those moments of doubt that used to stop me. The ones when I wonder, “Is this any good? Will anyone want to read this?”
But while writing my novel this time, when those thoughts arose, I acknowledged them, yet I refused to give them any energy. I used a mantra: “Art for art’s sake.” I made peace with the prospect that maybe no one would ever read it. I leaned into the process as the true reward.
Who knows what will happen with my manuscript. Regardless of the long-term results, I don’t regret a single second I spent working on it. The process was the true reward.
The Bottom Line is This:
Creativity is a muscle, and like any muscle, it needs to be exercised if you want it to do the heavy lifting of moving off writer’s block. Exercise your creative muscle every day, and you’ll be amazed at what will come.