How Mike Sanger knocks down creative blocks

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post written by Mike Sanger….

Award-winning journalist and longtime writer-at-large for Esquire, Mike Sanger (pictured above) has recently written a blog post for 99U under the headline, “Knocking down your creative blocks.” A quick 1,700-word (six minute) read, the piece describes his experience writing an article for Rolling Stone in 1989.

It didn’t go well for him….

Despite having riveting raw material — his story was about porn star John Holmes who had died of AIDS — Sanger felt stuck. He had sensational interviews and pages of notes and yet he couldn’t write a word. As a result, he decided to ignore nine months of work, decline the $2,250 writing fee and call it quits. But, first, he went for a walk.

Here’s how he describes the experience:

I learned that day that writer’s block had nothing to do with writing. No matter how many sources I consult, how much information I collect, how many e-stacks of paper I build, or search windows I open, my story is not going to be found in my notes. And neither is it lurking somewhere in the shadows of my blank screen. (If only we could rub with a quarter and have our work revealed?)

Don’t expect your best stuff to suddenly appear by magic. You can noodle the germ of an idea into something concrete—you can fiddle and try things and edit and throw stuff up against the wall until somehow the fairy dust of your creative gift is released by the gods and floats down over all. But before any of that can happen, you need to figure out what you’re trying to say. For me, that usually happens outside my office. Walking up a hill or chopping vegetables or taking a shower. Driving places. Staring out the window.

I like that he advises other writers to get away from their desks to figure out what they want to say. Interestingly, however, he doesn’t make the connection between exercise and creativity. Our brains work better when our bodies are engaged and, for many people, just walking is exercise enough. I’m walking on a treadmill as I write this

I’m walking on a treadmill as I write this and I find the experience of moving in this way not only boosts my creativity but also helps me generate better ideas. As a result, I can write more quickly. The next time you’re struggling with writing, take a break first and go for a walk. You won’t be wasting any time when you do this.