How to beat seasonally-induced writer’s block

writer's block

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As those of us in North America approach the end of summer, I offer five tips on how to return to work and beat seasonally-induced writer’s block, no matter where you live.

As I sit down to write this column the rain pounds outside my window. The precipitation is of such a Biblical scale I’m thinking of building an ark in my spare time. The kids are off buying school supplies and Autumn is in the air.

Yes, I know that if you’re one of my many subscribers in Australia, you’re just heading into Spring. (And I’d really appreciate it if we could avoid talking about that, mate!) But one of these days, you’ll also face the problem we Northerners are suffering from now. We all have acute cases of returningtoworkitis.

For everything there is a season and so, in the spirit of the end of holidays, I offer five tips on how to beat seasonally-induced writer’s block (even if you really, really don’t feel like dealing with it.)

1) Establish some routines for yourself. When summer started, I loved the sudden freedom of no plans and commitments. Piano, voice lessons, soccer, field hockey, Girl Guides and my husband’s choir were all finished for the year. I began sleeping in a little more and allowed myself to start each day with a pleasant wander through email, Twitter and Facebook. Now, however, I’m actually looking forward to re-establishing my routines. These include: back exercises and meditation, eating frogs, and following pomodoros. I’m not saying you have to copy exactly what I do — but figure out what routines work for you and implement them.

2) Before you write a word, determine your goals. Yes, plan before you write. This may be relatively simple: for example you might resolve to write for 20 minutes every day. Or perhaps you want to produce X number of words a day. The bottom line? Your goals need to be measurable. Don’t just resolve to “write more.” Define exactly what that means — then create a chart that you fill in each day, so you are answerable. Goals must be measured or they’re not really goals — they’re just nice ideas.

3) Break your work into small, achievable chunks. This is an old rule of time-management and it works for writers, too. For example, yesterday I went to a coffee shop and sketched out my plans for an exciting new product I’m going to announce next week. I’d dithered about this job for weeks because it seemed so big and overwhelming. But then I figured out how I could split the project into sub-categories and sub-sub-categories and even sub-sub-sub-categories. In less than an hour, I finished the task I’d been procrastinating about for several months!

4) Read a lot and read well. I’m not opposed to so-called “beach reads.” In the same way I eat a bit of junk food, I’ll read a bit of junk, too. But I don’t make a steady diet of it — particularly when holidays are over. Remember: you will start to sound like the writers you read. (That should keep you off your John Grisham!) I’m not saying you need to read the classics but at least read good writing. (If you’re stuck on what to choose, I highly recommend the New Yorker as a starting point.)

5) Get enough sleep. As the mother of premature triplets (now teenagers) I spent the first three years of their life never sleeping through the night. I have seen sleep deprivation’s hideous face and I know the baggy eyes and the pasty face intimately. But you don’t need triplets to be short of sleep. If you’re a grownup, you require somewhere between seven and nine hours sleep a night — the number varies with the individual. Figure out what suits your needs and adjust your schedule to get it. This may mean watching less TV or spending less time flitting through the Internet. It’s worth it! You cannot write if you’re exhausted; you’ll write better if you’re well slept.

To me, autumn is more like a new year than Jan. 1. Take the new season and seize it. Don’t let yourself just slide into Christmas. Resolve to take charge of your writing life, now.

Posted September 7th, 2010 in Power Writing